Skip to main content

Last Time Up

March 2023
2min read

On one damp and raw day in late September of 1960, I was in Boston’s Fenway Park. A great player was “hangin’ ‘em up” for the last time at the end of the game against the Baltimore Orioles. I was there in the center-field bleachers in the bottom of the eighth inning when “Old Number Nine” stepped into the batter’s box.

For the better part of twenty-two years he had been the star hitter of the Boston Red Sox. He had been through hardships and setbacks that might well have stopped a lesser man, including five years of wartime service in the Marines during the height of his career. Now it was all down to one last time at bat.

Fans stood and cheered for several minutes as the umpire held up the game. Nobody sat down. It might have been the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. It seemed as if each fan was trying to savor these last few moments. The batter did not acknowledge the ovation. He never had since his first or second year in the big leagues.

Finally Jack Fisher of the Orioles delivered his first pitch. It was low and inside for a ball. Still everyone stood. The next pitch came in high, and with a Herculean swing the hitter missed the ball. It was not like him to swing at a bad pitch. He stood there grinding the bat in his hands like someone trying to wring out a wet mop. He was a picture of tense concentration as he stared at the pitcher on the mound.

How would all this end after such a colorful career that included being the last hitter to bat over .400, two MVPs, and six batting titles? So often he seemed to hit one out in the most dramatic situations. He had belted a threerun homer to win the 1941 All-Star Game in Detroit. He homered off a Dizzy Trout pitch in his last at-bat before leaving for the Korean War, and did it again his second time at bat when he returned. Now he was like a matador standing in the middle of the ring waiting for the bull’s last charge.

Fisher was into his motion, and the next pitch was a fastball about thighhigh. The hitter, with a quick hitch and his fluid swing, made contact with the ball. It flew off the bat and headed in a straight line, almost in my direction. The Baltimore center fielder, already playing deep, slowly faded back and glanced over his shoulder to see how much room he had to the fence. He looked as if he had the ball in his sights and was ready to make the catch. Everything seemed to shift into slow motion. The ball hung in the air, the fielder’s face was turned up, another step, another, and finally the ball sailed over the fence.

It may have been that in their hearts, the racists, the obstructionists, knew
all the time that they were wrong.

The batter raced around the basepath with his head down, never looking up. This was typical of him.

For minutes fans stood and yelled for him to come out of the dugout, but he refused. A man to my right kept screaming “The old man is still number one!” The hitter wouldn’t come out and wave good-bye. He had made a vow years before that he would never again tip his hat to the crowd. Only when Pinky Higgins, the Red Sox manager, sent him out to left field the next inning and brought him back in before the first batter stepped to the plate did he raise his head and look my way for just an instant. With his head down again, Ted Williams loped toward the infield, across the first-base foul line, and disappeared into the dugout and into baseball immortality.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "April 1990"

Authored by: John McDonough

It is to the U.S. Air Force what Normandy is to the U.S. Army. The monuments are harder to find, but if you’re willing to leave the main roads, you will discover a countryside still eloquent of one of the greatest military efforts in history.

Authored by: The Editors

Women Who Opened the West

Authored by: Lawrence Block

A novelist turned compulsive traveler tracks a peculiar quarry all across America

Authored by: Walter Karp

When Pierre S. du Pont bought the deteriorated Longwood Gardens in 1906, he thought that owning property was a sign of mental derangement. Still, he worked hard to create a stupendous fantasy garden, a place, he said, “where I can entertain my friends.”

Authored by: Bill Merrell

The author leads a search for hidden treasure in the amazingly complete documentary history of a California ghost town

Authored by: Thomas Fleming

A novelist and historian takes us on a tour of the Academy at Annapolis, where American history encompasses the history of the world.

Featured Articles

Rarely has the full story been told how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

Often thought to have been a weak President, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or political fallout.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.