The Story of My Life
by Ted Williams
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Then here comes 1941 and everything is fun again. I mentioned circumstances. The biggest thing going for me to hit .400 was Fenway Park in Boston, and before you question the logic of that, let me explain. First it had a good, green background. Mr. Yawkey kept all the signs out, everything was green. There were no shadows. And then there was that short, high fence in left field. You say, But Williams was a pull hitter to right field. That's correct. But it gave me a different kind of advantage. Even though I didn't hit out that way, I always said to myself, If you swing a little late it won't be the worst thing in the world, because there's that short fence, the defense isn't there, and slices or balls hit late can still go out.
So I didn't worry about hitting late, and what did that do for me? It allowed me to develop the most valuable luxury a hitter can have: the ability to wait on the ball.
By waiting, you get fooled less by the pitch. By waiting, and being quick with the bat, you can protect the plate with two strikes. You can follow the ball better. I never complained when I was late on a pitch, but it burned my butt to be early, to be in front of the ball, because that meant I wasn't waiting. Sure, sometimes you wait too long and the ball is past you. But that usually means you are going to get the same pitch the next time, and nothing pleased me more than to get a second crack at a pitcher who thought he had put one past me. I couldn't wait to get up again.
Hal Newhouser knocked me down with a pitch one time, then struck me out on three fastballs. Detroit's pitchers were all like that -- Trucks, Trout, Benton, Newhouser. They loved to challenge you, brush you back a little, then pitch to your strength. When I came back to the bench I growled at somebody, "Five bucks says if he throws that same pitch to me again I'm going to ride it out of here." Newhouser did, and I did.
I remember Bill Dickey of the Yankees was giving me a lot of conversation that year. When he was catching, he'd try to get you distracted. He'd say, "How much you weigh now, Kid?" and, whup, there goes a strike. And then I'd take a real close pitch, a ball, and he'd say "How big does that ball look to you, anyway?" Then I'd take another one real close and he'd say, "Just how the hell big does that ball look to you?"
Well, Cramer was on second one day and he gave me the closed fist. Curve ball coming. He'd picked up Dickey's sign. So I'm looking for a curve. Bump Hadley's pitching for the Yankees and he rears back and gives me a fastball and it's almost past when I give it one of those late little quick swings. Line drive, right center field, home run. The next day I read in the paper where Dickey said, "Williams hit the ball right out of my glove," which was perfect because it meant that I had waited.
Now, the second thing that worked in my favor that year was an injury. I had chipped a bone in my ankle sliding into second base about the second week of spring training and for the first two weeks of the season I did nothing but pinch-hit. The early season was never my time of year anyway. It's cold in Boston, you have a lot of chilling, adverse hitting winds. I never hit as well in cold weather as I did in dead of the summer. Never. And, and, we had gotten Joe Dobson from Cleveland in a trade.
Dobson wasn't pitching regularly for us, so every day we'd go out and he'd throw me batting practice. We'd make games out of it -- "OK, Joe, ninth inning at Detroit, bases loaded, two out," and so forth. I got the most batting practice of my life, and the best, because Dobson had a hell of a curve and a good overhand fastball, and he always bore down. Every day that his arm would hold out, and the blisters on my hands would hold out, we'd go out there like it was all-out war, one-on-one.
Well, for me it was great fun, and I was about as sharp as I could ever be. My hands were good and callused. First I'd get the blisters, then the calluses would start growing, real big, hard ugly calluses. I'd bet if you checked today you'd find most hitters don't develop calluses like they used to. They wear golf gloves, and they don't hit that much. So I began to pinch-hit, and almost everything I touched was a line drive. When I finally got back into the lineup, the weather had turned warm, and I mean I got off to a flying start.
I remember going to New York early that year, and why they didn't pull the shift on me that day I'll never know. Mario Russo was pitching, a left-hander with a sidearm fastball that sank. He was good in the Stadium because right-handers couldn't get the ball in the air off him. First time I'm up, boom, a base hit between first and second base. Next time up, boom, another hit between first and second. I got four straight hits between first and second base. Gordon was tightening up on me all the time, shading over toward first, but he never quite got over far enough.
From My Turn at Bat by Ted Williams with John Underwood.
Copyright © 1969, 1988 by Ted Williams and John Underwood. Reprinted with permission.