1941 Fifty Years Ago

October 2017

The Kid

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak had died in July, and the pennant contest between the Yankees and Red Sox was effectively over in mid-August, but Boston’s Ted Williams took his pursuit of batting’s .400 mark to the final weekend in September.

Williams had been hitting .405 with a week to go, then had connected only once in seven appearances against the Washington Senators. After September 10 his average fell twelve points, to where dropping below the coveted .400 mark would be a matter of just a few outs. Joe Cronin, the Boston Red Sox manager, offered his star left fielder a chance to sit out the final three games, against the Philadelphia Athletics, and so preserve his average. But Williams—who often referred to himself as “Teddy Ballgame”—wouldn’t have it.

“You’ve got to admire the kid for being so courageous,” declared Cronin. The Kid went one-for-four in the first game, still technically leaving him at .400. He also refused to sit out the next day, a Sunday double-header that finished the season.

Connie Mack, owner of the Athletics, had threatened fines for any of his players who went easy on Williams in his last chance to top the mark. With his teammates cheering him on, Williams attacked for six hits in eight trips to the plate, smashing a four-hundred-foot home run as well as a double that crashed off the right-field loudspeaker and retired its horn. By day’s end Williams’ average stood at .406, the highest since 1930 and never equaled in the fifty seasons since. And he had also wielded power, gaining the league’s highest home-run total and nearly taking batting’s Triple Crown. “I tell you,” admitted Cronin afterward, “I never came closer to crying on a ball field than I did when Ted got that third hit. … And without asking any favors or being given any.”

Said Williams, “I never wanted anything harder in my life.”