On Opening Day, We Remember The Best

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On Opening Day, We Remember The Best
(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

There is something nice about seeing Ken Griffey, Jr., return to Seattle for what appears to be his last season.

You’d figure that a team like the Mariners, who are in a definitive rebuilding stage, would prefer to give more playing time to players they wish to evaluate for the future, but seeing Griffey shagging balls in the outfield, hopefully with his hat turned around backward, will be enjoyable to any baseball fan.

After a sluggish season statistically for Griffey in 2008, which saw him post a batting average of .249, hit 18 home runs, score 71 RBI and score 67 runs, maybe Ken Griffey Jr., will not only help the fans in Seattle say good-bye, but also put on one last hooray that will show this generation how magical he was patrolling centerfield.

Let's look back 49 years at Hall of Famer Ted Williams' last major league season to see what we hope is similar to how Griffey ends his career.

In 1959, Ted Williams could have walked away from the game of baseball and retired knowing that maybe only Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig would have rivaled the career that he managed to put together offensively.

A career that saw Williams leave for three years during World War II to fly fighters and then another two during the Korea War when the allure of seeing what the even faster jet planes would do. 

Five years of missing time on the baseball diamond to become an ace fighter pilot and war hero was never even an afterthought for Ted Williams; it was his duty and honor to serve his country.

Perhaps it was these same character traits that saw him play his entire career with one team, the Boston Red Sox, and to see him come back for one more final year in 1960.

Ted Williams won the Triple Crown two times, and the MVP twice. He was the last player to hit over .400 in a season.

In 1959, Williams put up career lows in all major batting categories. He had a .254 batting average, 10 home runs, drove in 43 runs and scored 32 times.

So, why return?

Maybe it was his desire to hit over 500 career home runs that helped to bring him back for one final season in 1960. This is possible, but it is more likely that Ted Williams did not want to be remembered as a player who retired because his skills had passed him by.

Images of Babe Ruth playing his last year in a different uniform, in a different league, with the Boston Braves are sad to see, and Williams's statistical season in 1959 was the equivalent of this and wholly unacceptable.

To him, this was as sad as when Lou Gehrig took the field to say goodbye to the fans at Yankee Stadium while giving his "Today I am the luckiest man" speech.

1960 proved to be the season Ted Williams needed to retire on. He sported a .316 batting average, hit 29 home runs (including his 500th career HR) and drove in 72 runs while scoring 56 times.

He gave the Boston faithful a chance to appreciate him one more time—something they all had been doing for over two decades since he broke into the league in 1939. He was a picture of stability, standing in front of the Green Monster day after day, season after season.

What is the greatness by which we measure hitters? The home run.

If a player hits a homer in his first ever at-bat, everybody talks about it as a measure of future greatness.

So, what would be better than hitting one in your last at-bat, as a possible exclamation point on a great bounce back season and an amazing career?

This is how Ted Williams finished it off, saying thank you with a tip of his cap one last time to those that watched, cheered and admired him.

 

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