Ted Williams, one of the most fabulous figures who ever swung a bat, ended his brilliant, stormy and spectacular baseball career at Fenway Park yesterday by blasting the 521st home run of his life into the center field bleachers.
The dramatic clout came in the eighth inning on Williams’ final fling at an American League pitcher. The count was 1-1. Williams had looked at the first pitch for a ball. The second pitch was a high, hard one on which Williams swung and missed.
Jack Fisher, trying to protect a two-run Baltimore lead and second place in the American League, fired another fast one at Ted. This one took off. It had the power, trajectory and majesty of a man landing on the moon.
The ball sailed out toward the bleacher in center field. It landed on the canopy of the sun-protected miniature bench in the Red Sox bullpen. Who else but Williams could end a career in this fashion?
When the game was over, Manager Mike Higgins announced that Ted would not go to New York with the club for the final three games of the season in Yankee Stadium. So, the 10,454 paying customers saw Ted bow out in fitting and typical fashion.
They stood and cheered Williams as he trotted around the bases. They held up the game for four minutes as they requested a special bow and they chanted, “We want Ted.”
The homer had left the Sox one run in arrears. The fans didn’t care about the score. They wanted Ted, whose homer came with one out. The Sox came out for the ninth and there was another roar. For Williams jogged out to left field.
He took his position for about two minutes amidst wild shouting. When it had subsided, Higgins sent Carroll Hardy out to take Ted’s place.
As Williams headed toward the dugout, he received one of the warmest receptions of his life. Everyone stood and cheered. Players in the bullpens and dugouts. Mrs. Tom Yawkey and the returning Jackie Jensen up in the sky view seats. There was many a moist eye. If Ted didn’t get a charge out of it, he isn’t human.
This was the happy ending Williams’ followers wanted. This was the way Ted wanted to bow out. He narrowly missed a homer in the fifth when he backed Al Pilarcik against the visiting bullpen for a putout.
“I never hit a ball better,” Ted told reporters after the game. “I thought that was gone. When it didn’t go out, I was disappointed. I never hit any ball better. So I had to try again. I was happy to do it. Baseball has given me everything I wanted.”
This was the way Ted wanted to bow out. Babe Ruth hit three home runs on a Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh in 1935 and Manager Bill McKechnie tried to get The Babe to retire. But Babe hung around until he was forced to leave and when he left it was under unpleasant circumstances.
There are no records about things of this sort. But not many players have hit home runs in their first and final appearances at the plate in the same season.
When the American League race opened in Washington on April 18, Ted hit a tape measure homer off Camilo Pascual in his first time at bat. This started him toward a hitting spree for a 42-year-older. He his 29 homers. He batted .316. He not only reached the 500 mark in homers but he passed the late Mel Ott (508) as the third lifetime all time home run hitter.
His total of 521 is only 13 behind Jimmy Foxx, the runner up to Ruth, who hit 711 out of the park.
In his first game in the American League, his best belt was a two-bagger. That was at age 20. There’s one thing you can say about Ted, without fear or contradiction. Like good win, he improved with age.