Ted Williams was the best player in the MLB, and in 1942 he chose to step away from the game and enlist in the US Navy to serve his country during WWII. He was coming off of winning the triple crown the year before, and instead of continuing to mash at a ferocious pace, he chose to enlist as an aviator in the Navy. Being that baseball is America’s past time and Teddy was one of the greatest ever, while simultaneously serving his country, basically makes him one of the greatest Americans to ever live.
One of my favorite sayings in sports is about baseball. The saying goes “the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a round ball with a round bat square” and no one was better at doing that than Teddy Ball Game. He was so good he literally wrote the book on hitting with “The Science Of Hitting”. He stated that he could hit so well, because his eye sight was so good that he could see the laces on the baseball and was able to read what pitch was being thrown. To most, that seems like a tall tale and some do not believe it, but growing up in Boston you take the tales of Ted Williams as true without a second of doubt, because we know Teddy was what legends are made of.
While Williams was stationed in North Carolina, he was sent back to Fenway Park to play in the All-Star game. Ted’s American League team was managed by the man himself, Babe Ruth. Newspapers wrote that when they first met Ruth approached Ted and said “Hiya kid. You remind a lot of myself”. Ruth also told him he was one of the most natural players he had ever seen, and if someone was to break his record, he would want it to be Teddy. For those who do not know Babe Ruth was a stubborn old booze bag who did not like to give out credit to the great players who followed him, because he was not used to having players who were as talented as him. So when Babe said that to Ted, it really meant something. Williams said he was “flabbergasted…after all it was the Babe”.
Ted Williams did not take the typical baseball player approach at the military, spending most of their time playing for the Army or Navy baseball teams, but instead decided to become a pilot in the Navy. He excelled in the aviation school maintaining a 3.8 grade point average. Red Sox teammate, and best friend, Johnny Pesky was with Teddy every step of the way throughout the aviation program and describes Ted’s time flying planes better than anyone. “He would shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls…I know he broke the all-time record for hits. From what they said Ted could make a plane and its six pianos (machine guns) play like a symphony orchestra. His reflexes and reaction times made him a built-in part of the machine.”
The military took three seasons away from Ted Williams in the prime of his career the year after hitting the triple crown. He may have had the greatest hitting seasons anyone ever had in those years, but he was proud to serve his country. Ask any Bostonian who the greatest hitter of all-time is and they will tell you ‘The Splendid Splinter’ Ted Williams. He is the last batter to finish a season with a bating average of .400, batting .406 in 1941. He finished his career with 521 home runs and a career batting average of .344. He won the triple crown, went to war, came back and won the triple crown! The man was a wizard behind the plate in a matter we will never see again, which is why his stories will continue to be passed on generation after generation.