When the Red Sox played the Orioles on September 26 in Boston’s Fenway Park, 10,454 fans gathered to witness not only the last home game of the season but also the last game played in Fenway Park by Ted Williams, the Red Sox’s forty-two-year-old hitter who for half his life had been the pride and torment of Boston.
Esteemed as the greatest batter of his age, Williams might have ranked with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth if he hadn’t lost numerous seasons to military service and injuries. But lost seasons weren’t the only impediment to his career: Williams spat at inopportune moments, rebuked sportswriters, and rarely acknowledged his fans with so much as a tip of the hat. In return, Williams was subjected throughout his career to open hostility from the sports pages and grandstands alike.
One of Williams’s apologists, John Updike, claims the hitter sought “a perfectionist’s vacuum” and “desired to sever the game from the ground of paid spectatorship and publicity that supports it.” Others have argued that Williams’s show of indifference belied an inordinate concern for such attention. However indecipherable the workings of the inner man may have been, the performance of Williams the athlete was indisputable.
He made that clear on September 26. In the eighth inning, he came up to bat for what everyone knew would be the last time in his long career at Fenway Park. Somehow, although the odds were against it, he finished that career the way any hitter would want: with a home run.
After the game, Williams announced he would not be traveling on with the team to finish up the season. That final glorious homer in Fenway Park was to be his last time at bat.
September 26: Vice-Président Richard M. Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy debate on television.