Old-time Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams was one of the greatest players the MLB has ever seen. He is arguably the best player to ever play for the Boston Red Sox, with the possible exception of slugger David Ortiz. Williams hit 521 home runs, batted in 1839 runs and had a career batting average of .344. He was a two-time American League MVP, two-time triple crown winner, 19-time all-star and won six batting titles.
Williams began his career in Boston with the Red Sox in 1939 and played his entire professional career there without leaving. Williams’ offensive efficiency was historic and unlike anything that the MLB had seen; Williams is the last batter to post a batting average above a .400 for the season, posting a .406 in 1941.
However, there were some significant circumstances going on in the world during the early times of Williams’ career. In that same 1941 season, Williams had 37 home runs and 120 RBI. Then, just a couple of months after the season ended, Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan, which brought the United States into World War II. Williams, being of age and enrolled in the draft, was then selected in the United States military draft on Jan. 28, 1942. He originally received deferment with his 1A draft status, but the public did not take kindly to Williams’ decision to defer. He, as with many draft dodgers, was portrayed as “un-American” for his decision. Williams played the next season and was terrific again, hitting .356 with 36 home runs and 137 RBI. Once the season came to a conclusion, he voluntarily enlisted into the Navy and was called for duty just over a month after the season had ended.
Williams did not play baseball for the next three years as he served through the end of World War II. He was a fighter pilot and, similar to his time in baseball, he spent a lot of time trying to perfect his craft. And he did just that. His superiors were intensely watching Williams as he went through pilot training, and he broke multiple training records in doing so. He was never called into action to fight in World War II and was discharged at the end of 1945 following V-Day, the day in which the axis forces surrendered to the allies.
Williams then reentered the MLB and rejoined the Red Sox in 1946, picking up exactly where he had left off. Williams’ most historic achievement is the creation of the “Williams shift,” most commonly referred to by most bullpens as “putting the shift on.” On July 14, 1946, William had hit three home runs and eight RBIs in the first game of a doubleheader, and opposing coach Lou Boudreau had his players in the outfield rotate to the areas where they knew Williams was going to drive the ball out to. That season turned out to be historic for Williams, who launched the longest home run recorded in Fenway Park history at 502 feet, ran away with the MVP race and carried his team to the World Series. After electing to play in the All-Star game that fall, Williams sustained an elbow injury and was ineffective in the World Series. The Red Sox would go on to lose in seven games, and Williams never once returned to the big stage with Boston.
Williams’ career had to be paused again in 1952, as the United States entered its second year at war with Korea. This time, Williams was in the fight, being pulled from the reserves. Thanks to his prior training and capabilities in flight, combined with technological advancements since WWII, Williams’ time in action didn’t result in any physical harm to his well being. In action, his plane was hit multiple times by stray anti-air fire and at certain times things looked grim, but he was able to escape with his life every time.
With the end of the war, Williams was discharged and once again returned to baseball in 1953, when he received the ranking of All-Star, despite only playing 37 games on the year. Williams finished his career with all the aforementioned accolades, in addition to being a first-ballot member of the MLB Hall of Fame. The impact Williams made will forever live on in the city of Boston, with the bridge adjacent to Fenway Park being named after him and the statue of him standing tall outside of the stadium. Decades later, Williams is still regarded as a baseball legend.