Final Swing

Good morning, it’s Thursday, September 28, 2017. On this date in 1941, Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams had a decision to make: To play or not to play? His team was on the road, about to take the field for a double-header against the Philadelphia Athletics.

It was the last day of the season and neither the Red Sox nor the A’s were in contention. The Joe DiMaggio-led Yankees led the American League by 17 games while on their way to winning their fifth World Series in the six years since the great DiMag had arrived in New York.

But up in Boston, “The Kid” was leading the league in hitting. Ted Williams’ batting average, calculated to the last decimal point, was .3995. Rounded off, it came to .400 — a magical mark now, a milestone then — and the dilemma was whether Williams should risk his laurels by playing in two meaningless games.

He decided to play in both, and went 6 for 8, with a double and a home run, raising his average to .406, a standard that has never been equaled since. It wasn’t a surprise, really. Ted Williams, whatever his faults, was a man who answered the bell.

Ted Williams played nearly as well in 1942 as he did in the previous season, but by then Americans’ attention was increasingly focused on Europe and the Pacific: During the off-season, the United States had finally been drawn into the crucible of World War II.

Like most of major leaguers, Williams signed up for military duty. With his pride, 20-10 vision, and steely nerves, he was a natural aviator and he became a decorated U.S. Marine Corps combat pilot. He would fly in Korea, too, and by the time his baseball career was over in 1960, Ted Williams had missed nearly five seasons to military service, while still managing to make a good case in support of his stated life’s ambition to be “the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

For many years in Boston, “the curse of the Bambino” was offered up as a karmic rationale for a near-century of Red Sox haplessness and Yankee superiority. It’s true that Boston’s clueless owner traded Babe Ruth to New York after the 1919 season, but one wonders: Might another source of “the curse” (which finally ended in 2004 after a World Series sweep) be the Sox fans’ ungrateful treatment of Ted Williams?

As fate would have it, it was also September 28 — today’s date — when the Fenway faithful caught their last sight of Ted Williams doing what he did best. The year was 1960, and his career was winding down. In 1959, with his back hurting, Williams had put up the numbers of a journeyman. Determined not to go out that way, he’d come back for an encore at 42 years of age. And what a reprise. Williams hit .316 that season, with 29 home runs. The only one of the 29 anyone remembers now was clubbed on September 28, 1960 off Jack Fisher of the Baltimore Orioles. Williams circled the bases with his head down, not acknowledging the meager crowd, which stood and cheered for his last at-bat.

The day was memorialized by John Updike in his classic October 1960 piece in the New Yorker, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” which has held up through the years, and not just for its marvelous prose. The line in that story most often recalled today takes place after Williams homers and the crowd begs him to come out for a curtain call. These faithful, these 10,000, were Williams partisans. But the hurts of previous years were too deep, the stubbornness that made Ted Williams who he was, too profound. Williams stayed in the dugout. “Gods do not answer letters,” Updike wrote.

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
Other Things from Real Clear Politics:

Trump Aims to Pressure Democrats on Taxes. James Arkin reports on yesterday’s unveiling of the GOP’s reform plan, and the president’s strategy of isolating vulnerable incumbents on the issue.

Vexing Question for the GOP: Whose Party Is This? Caitlin Huey-Burns examines the confounding dynamics after President Trump’s preferred candidate lost in Alabama on Tuesday.

Is Political Campaigning Mostly Pointless? RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy spotlights a meta-analysis of studies examining the effects of campaign contact and advertising on voter choice.

A Road Map to Bipartisan Health Care Reform. In RealClearPolicy, James C. Capretta urges Republicans and Democrats to work together on long-term fixes.

Reinventing Washington’s Broken Budget Process. Also in RCPolicy, Sen. David Perdue and Rep. Doug Collins call for a bipartisan effort to overhaul the federal budget process.

Prepare for the Worst With North Korea. In RealClearDefense, Matthew R. Costlow has advice for President Trump

Egypt’s Nubia: Drowning by Government Decree. In RealClearWorld, Amy Austin Holmes spotlights the marginalization of a people and culture

%d bloggers like this: