When a young ballplayer named Ted Williams once said that he wanted to be remembered as the greatest hitter of all time, he meant it. And 2,654 hits later, after an illustrious career, Williams very well may have been just that.
Over half a century later, Rays outfielder Johnny Damon is about to pass him. Of course, Damon has his hopes set higher, and 3,000 hits is a very reachable goal for him. But nevertheless, passing the man considered to be one of the greatest pure hitters ever is quite an accomplishment.
"It seems like with every guy I pass now, it's someone very good," Damon said. It's true. In the last few weeks, he has passed Jimmie Foxx, Reggie Jackson and Ernie Banks.
But Teddy Ballgame owns a special place in Johnny Damon's heart.
"Ted Williams is especially sentimental to me because I was with the Red Sox when he passed away and we honored him on the field. My son was maybe three at the time and he was able to be out on the field with me wearing a Ted Williams jersey."
He talked about how, in Boston, Ted Williams set the standard for decades to come.
"He's numero uno," Damon said, "Even with Carl Yasztremski they were always trying to make comparisons and saying you will never be that good."
"Everybody is compared to Ted, even Manny when he got there. Yankee centerfielders and Red Sox left fielders are probably two of the most revered positions in the game."
If Damon eventually reaches 3,000 hits, not only will he have passed Williams, but also such titans as Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and Barry Bonds. But for Damon, even passing Ruth would not mean quite as much.
"Obviously, every hit you get and whoever you tie or pass is special, but I think Ted Williams is tops for me."
"I never did (get to meet Williams). I didn't make the All-Star team in '99 when he was there. I had the numbers, but playing for the Royals, they would always take the pitchers."
Damon also discussed how he has been viewed throughout his career.
"I think that when I came up, everybody thought I was just a singles hitter," he said, "but I was able to get some extra-base hits and I think I'm at 800 and counting right now."
This season, Damon has been excellent in that regard. He has 80 hits this year, 23 of them for extra bases. It's all part of his game.
As the hits keep piling up for the Rays outfielder, a Hall of Fame resume may be in the works. But Damon is just happy to have had a long, successful career.
"I'm just surprised by the fact that I've been able to have this long of a career," he said.
In the next few games, Damon will certainly pass the Splendid Splinter and continue his quest towards 3,000 hits. But for now, he is honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as Ted Williams.
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