MLB History: Ted Williams, Above and Beyond the Rest

Steven BaldassariContributor IIIMarch 17, 2011

The year is 1941. The world is at war. Battles are raging and have been for two years now since the beginning of World War II in 1939.

At this point, the United States has successfully managed to stay out of this international conflict and remain neutral. All of that was about to change.

At 6 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, six Japanese carriers with 423 planes took position in preparations to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It's now 7:02 a.m. Two Army operators at Oahu's northern shore radar station detect the Japanese air attack approaching. They contact a junior officer, who disregards their reports. He believes the planes to be American B-17 planes that are expected in from the U.S. West Coast.

Therefore, Pearl Harbor is not on a state of high alert as per their intelligence, and there is no reason to believe an attack is imminent. Many officers and crewmen are leisurely ashore.

At 7:53 a.m., the first Japanese assault wave, with 51 "Val" dive bombers, 40 "Kate" torpedo bombers, 50 high-level bombers and 43 "Zero" fighters, commences the attack with flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida sounding the battle cry: "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!).

The Americans are taken completely by surprise. The casualty list includes 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians killed, with 1,178 wounded. Included are 1,104 men aboard the battleship USS Arizona killed after a 1,760-pound air bomb penetrated into the forward magazine, causing catastrophic explosions.

On the following day, Monday, December 8, 1941, America declared war on Japan. Three days later they declared war on Italy and Germany as well. America's Great Depression, regarded as having begun in 1929 with the Stock Market crash, had just ended with America's entry into World War II. This new war needed soldiers in order to be fought, and soldiers it would get.

Feb 16, 1953 – Marine pilot Ted Williams shot down in Korea (Courtesy of - Red Sox hat added for effect)
Feb 16, 1953 – Marine pilot Ted Williams shot down in Korea (Courtesy of - Red Sox hat added for effect)

Standing 6'3", 205 pounds and heading into the last day of the 1941 MLB season, 22-year-old Theodore "Teddy" Samuel Williams was statistically hitting .400 (.3995). Manager Joe Cronin offered to rest Williams to preserve the batting average mark and give him the rare feat of hitting .400 in the major leagues.

Instead, "Teddy Ballgame," AKA "The Splendid Splinter," played in both games of a doubleheader and went 6-for-8 to raise his final average to .406. This type of fearless confidence defined "The Kid" in his young career and would continue to define him in years to come.

Ted Williams went on to play the 1942 season and hit a whopping .356 as an encore to his historic 1941 season. He missed the 1943-1945 seasons as he served his country as a fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps. In 1946 Williams returned to Major League Baseball. It was as if he didn't miss a if the war didn't even faze him.

In that, his first year back at 27, "Thumper" batted .342 with 38 home runs, 123 runs batted in and a .497 on-base percentage to win the AL MVP award. In the years leading up to 1952, Teddy Williams would enjoy similar achievements and success on the baseball diamond.

In 1952 he would once again serve his nation by fighting in the Korean War. He would also serve in 1953. Williams only salvaged 101 total at-bats between the two seasons that he served in Korea.

In 1954 Williams would return from war for a second time and play baseball for the Boston Red Sox. This time he was 35 years old but still he managed to hit .345 with 29 home runs and 89 runs batted in and did so in only 386 at-bats. Williams was a natural and would continue to tear the cover off the baseball in his later years.

In 1958, at the age of 39, he batted an amazing .388. To add an exclamation point to his career, in his last at-bat in Fenway Park, he hit a home run into the right field bleachers, No. 521 and the last of his illustrious career. That mark is good for a Red Sox franchise record and stands to this day.

Williams retired in 1960 after 19 seasons with the Red Sox and easily won election to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1966. He is also only one of five former Red Sox players to have his number (9) retired by the organization.

Picture what could have been had Williams not missed those five seasons from serving in WWII and the Korean War. Instead of hitting 521 home runs, he may have finished with about 671 home runs (based on an average of 30 HRs per year). This would have had him sitting at about fourth on the all-time home run list instead of sitting tied for 18th overall on the all-time MLB home run list, tied with Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas.

Can you even ponder what he would have accomplished if he had played even longer, which he probably should have?

Lastly, envisage how many home runs he would have knocked out of the park if he took HGH and/or steroids like the so-called superstars of modern Major League Baseball. The thought of what could have been brings goose bumps to my skin.

Teddy Ballgame is a poster child of baseball. His confident mentality, dedication, determination and passion for the game were, are and will always be second to none. He was a soldier, a hero, a American icon. If men such as this are still produced, then I have yet to meet one. I would bet those earlier goose bumps that you haven't met anyone like him either.

Boston's iconic left fielder passed away on July 5, 2002 at age 83. He is gone but not forgotten. We remember his valor and his talent. There will never be another man who walks God's green earth who is quite like Ted Williams.

R.I.P. Teddy! I hope that you hit home runs from here to heaven.