Forever, and forever, farewell, Cassius!
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.
Ted Williams was in character to the end. He hit a home run his last time at bat. He took a dig at the sports writers. He did not tip his cap or otherwise acknowledge the applause of 10.454 nearly hysterical fans who had come to see and cheer his farewell at Fenway Park.
His farewell at Fenway or elsewhere, as it turned out. Unknown to the public, he had decided before yesterday’s game not to play the final three games of the season at Yankee Stadium.
Thus, Williams, who as a 20-year-old rookie had struck out against Red Ruffing his first time at bat, in Yankee Stadium, Apr. 20, 1939, closed his career with his 521st home run.
Williams was cheered and cheered. When Mayor Collins extolled him before the game. When he flied to center. When he flight to deep right.
When he batted eighth, for his last time up in Boston – except for Old-Timers Games. A stand-up ovation delaying action two minutes.
And when he lined up a 1-1 fastball by Jack Fisher off the Red Sox bullpen roof. Pandemonium filled the park as he hastily rounded the bases.
After he had scurried down the steps and ducked into the Boston dugout in his self-conscious way, the applause continued. It swelled. The audience wanted a curtain call.
“We want Ted.” The chant grew.
“Go ahead out, Ted,” urged teammates. “Wave your cap at ‘em. Just step out for a second.”
Was he embarrassed? Was he untouched? Was he proud?
He wouldn’t move – at 42, after 22 years, playing his last game for the fans he said he loved. Unbroken the vow he made in 1940, when he was boohed and jeered for not hitting homers into the specially constructed “Williamsburg” bullpens:
“To hell with them. They can booh me or they can cheer me, but I’m not going to tip my cap.”
The game is played. They’ve taken in the foul lines.
The first thing he did after the game was to send the home run bat to Tom Yawkey upstairs by bat boy Bobby Sullivan. The he hung around and soaked up praise and adulation, the admiring glances of those who would not approach, the warmth of a winning clubhouse – as he never would again.
“I never wanted to hit one more … I thought the first one was gone … I left them something to remember, anyhow.”
A big man with a waist thinly wrinkled with fat, enjoying his last big moment in the game he once said he would gladly quit if he had the security of $50 a week.
Outside, the crowd reluctantly leaving. For such an occasion, not a big crowd (10,454) but it wanted an encore. More people (15,300) had seen Williams play his first Fenway Park game, an exhibition against the Bees, Apr. 16, 1939.
More people (15,000) had seen his American League opener at Fenway Park five days later. More (24,764) saw him when he left to rejoin the Marines May 1, 1952 – hitting a seventh-inning homer to beat Dizzy Trout of the Tigers, 5 to 3.
And more saw him (14,175) when he quit in 1954, in his pseudo-farewell, hitting a homer off Jim Keriazakas – who? – of the Senators.
A dramatic vignette missed by some as Mayor Collins was hailing and farewelling Williams: standing beside Baltimore’s starting pitcher as he warmed up, and paying no attention, was Harry (The Cat) Brecheen – the Cardinals’ pitcher who most effectively chilled Williams’ bat in the 1946 World Series.
But he paid attention when Williams hit his homer. So did others, those who were praying and those who were kidding; those who were composing such headlines as: “Sox Pennant Hopes Soar: Jensen Returns, Williams Retires,” and those who were begging Jack Fisher, “Lay it in there and let him hit it.”
For Fisher, Gus Triandos and Umpire Ed Hurley, Williams had a smiling curtsy as he touched the plate.
Was Fisher “piping” the ball for Williams? Some wondered. He threw nothing but fast balls his last two times up, but one had so much on it that Williams fanned it just before he homered.
The retiring of his number, made No. 9 the first Red Sox digit ever to be placed in formaldehyde. When it was announced, Eddie Pelligrini – one of only eight American League players to hit a home run his FIRST time at bat – sighed and said, “Well, that’s half my number – 39.”
As long as baseball is played, Ted Williams’ last home run will be epic; and as long as the press is free, there will be “knights of the keyboard” – or did he mean “gnats of the keyboard”? – to tell its praise.