Sunday, December 23, 2018

September 28, 1941: Ted Williams Hits .400

Sunday 28 September 1941

Ted Williams
Ted Williams.
American Homefront: Yes, there's a war on and that's always important. People are fighting and dying and that's a terrible, horrible, unforgettable thing. However, on 28 September 1941, something happens in the American national pastime that echoes more loudly and positively down through the ages than some battle or uprising or evil deed somewhere else. And that magical feat is Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox hitting .400.

Babi Yar 28 September 1941
The Babi Yar massacre begins on 28 September 1941 on the outskirts of Kyiv. Over the course of two days, the Germans take almost 34,000 Jewish men, women, and children to a ravine called Babi Yar and execute them. The Germans continue to use the pit for similar purposes throughout the war. This is partly to retaliate for hidden bombs left behind in Kyiv by retreating Soviet troops that were detonated long after they left and which killed hundreds of German soldiers. 
The year 1941 was perhaps the most dramatic in the history of Major League Baseball. It was almost as if the players knew it was all about to end and they had to get in one final effort to show that there's more to the world than death and destruction. There also is valor and glory off the battlefield, even if it doesn't involve trying to seize someone else's country or eliminate some inconvenient foreign leader. Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees hit in 56 straight games over the summer (57 straight games if you count the All-Star Game), something that hadn't been done for decades, hasn't been done since and almost never will be done again in the future. That would seem to be an impossible act to top... but Ted Williams, the "Splendid Splinter," somehow manages to do it on the last day of the season.

Finnish patrol boat with Lahti L-39 28 September 1941
A Finnish patrol boat approaches an enemy patrol on the beach at Tikansaari, September 28, 1941. Note the mounted Lahti L-39 (original color photograph on SA-Kuva).
The story of Ted Williams' final two games of the 1941 season is well known, but let's go through it one more time. It is a doubleheader at Shibe Park against Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics and he is hitting an amazing .3995, which rounds off to .400 and would make Williams the first player in the history of baseball to hit .400 for an entire season. After the Red Sox arrived in Philadelphia, a reporter asked Williams whether maybe he shouldn't just take the day off since these are meaningless games anyway in order to preserve his record. Ted says no, saying "I either make it or I don't."

London cafe owner 28 September 1941
A London cafe owner gives his prospective customers warning of what will happen in the event of an invasion, 28 September 1941 (AP).
Williams has plenty of reasons to sit out the games, including the fact that on Saturday, he had only gone 1-4, dropping his season average just below the .400 level. The season was ending, the sun was not as high in the sky so shadows played across the field, there was no motivation for the pennant race, and everyone was tired. Williams' manager, Joe Cronin, offers him the choice of playing or not, telling him, "You don’t have to be put in if you don’t want to. You’re officially .400." Williams recounts decades later "that hit me like a goddamn lightning bolt! What do you mean I don’t have to play today?" He responds, "I want to have more than my toenails on the line."

Superman 28 September 1941
The Superman comics in the "funny papers" part of the Sunday newspaper.
Cronin is in Williams' corner all the way, telling a reporter:
If there’s ever a ballplayer who deserved to hit .400, it’s Ted. He’s given up plenty of chances to bunt and protect his average in recent weeks. He wouldn’t think of getting out of the lineup to keep his average intact. Moreover, most of the other stars who have bettered the mark before were helped by no foul strike rules or sacrifice fly regulations.
Everybody on the ballfield knows what is at stake, including the home plate umpire, Bill McGowan, who mentions it during Williams' first at-bat.

Marion Miley
Golf champion Marion Miley, aged 27, is shot twice in an armed robbery along with her mother Else in the Lexington Country Club, Kentucky in the early morning hours of 28 September 1941. Miley perishes a few days later. Three men are arrested, charged, convicted, and perish in the electric chair.
Well, after all the drama, Ted Williams goes 4-5 in the first game, including hitting his league-leading 37th home run of the season in the fifth inning. Then, now hitting above .400 and with every reason to sit out the nightcap of the doubleheader, Williams plays anyway and goes 2-3. Ted Williams winds up hitting .4057, rounded up to .406. For the day, he goes 6-8, one of his best days of the entire season. And that is the last time anyone ever hit .400 in the Major Leagues.

Winston Churchill at Coventry Cathedral 28 September 1941
Winston Churchill inspects the ruined Coventry Cathedral, 28 September 1941.
Ted Williams will receive his draft notice in January 1942, join the Navy Reserve on 22 May 1942 after a highly criticized decision to get him declared 3-A (ineligible for the Draft), and go on active duty in 1943. He becomes a Naval Aviator in the United States Marine Corps but doesn't see any action, serving as a flight instructor. However, when the Korean War breaks out, he serves in Korea as John Glenn's wingman.

Ted Williams
The Ted Williams baseball card.

September 1941

September 1, 1941: Two Years In
September 2, 1941: Germans Pushed Back at Yelnya
September 3, 1941: FDR Refuses to Meet with Japanese
September 4, 1941: Hitler Furious at Guderian
September 5, 1941: Germans Evacuate Yelnya
September 6, 1941: Japan Prepares for War
September 7, 1941: Hitler Orders Drive on Moscow
September 8, 1941: Leningrad Cut Off
September 9, 1941: Germans Attack Leningrad
September 10, 1941: Guderian Busts Loose
September 11, 1941: Convoy SC-42 Destruction
September 12, 1941: Starve Leningrad!
September 13, 1941: Zhukov at Leningrad
September 14, 1941: Germany's Growing Casualties
September 15, 1941: Sorge Warns Stalin Again
September 16, 1941: Soviets Encircled at Kiev
September 17, 1941: Iran Conquest Completed
September 18, 1941: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Action
September 19, 1941: Germans Take Kiev
September 20, 1941: Death at Kiev
September 21, 1941: Raging Soviet Paranoia
September 22, 1941: Defense of Nickel Mines
September 23, 1941: Air Attacks on Leningrad
September 24, 1941: Japanese Spying Intensifies
September 25, 1941: Manstein at the Crimea
September 26, 1941: Kiev Pocket Eliminated
September 27, 1941: Massacre at Eišiškės
September 28, 1941: Ted Williams Hits .400
September 29, 1941: Babi Yar Massacre
September 30, 1941: Operation Typhoon Begins


No comments:

Post a Comment