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1914 Boston Braves

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  • My Turn at Bat
    The Story of My Life

    by Ted Williams
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    From Part Two

    The .400 thing got bigger as the season went on because a lot of guys had hit .400 for two months and then tailed. And, truthfully, it got bigger to me with the years. I had to think then that I wasn't going to be the last to do it, or that I might even do it again myself. Late in the season, when it looked like I might make it, I went on Harry Von Zell's program -- he had one of those radio talk shows then -- and Harry asked me if I was going to break Hugh Duffy's record. Duffy had hit .438 for the Reds back before the turn of the century, the highest average of all time. I said I hoped not, because I liked Hugh Duffy too much.

    Duffy was a coach for the Red Sox when I first came up. A little squib of a guy. Looked like he weighed about a hundred pounds. Duffy used to tell me, "Son, you've got form and power. But the form is most important. With it you get the power. Don't monkey with your form." I remember in spring training I'd rip one back through the box, practically dehorn the pitcher, take his whiskers right off, and Duffy would squeal, "Thata boy, Ted, thata boy." He really liked that one.

    Everybody was interested as we got into September. I'd go into Detroit where Harry Heilmann was broadcasting the games, and Harry would take me aside and say, "Now, forget about that short fence, just hit the ball where you want it, hit your pitch, get those base hits. You can hit .400. You can do it." Heilmann had hit .403 for the Tigers in 1921, and he was the opposing announcer, but he was for me. Just about everybody was for me. The fans in Yankee Stadium gave Lefty Gomez a hell of a boo in September when he walked me with the bases loaded after I had gotten three straight hits.

    The only guy who tried to put me down was Al Simmons. He came over to me in the dugout tunnel one day near the end. He was coaching for Philadelphia at the time. He had hit .390 one year for the A's, and he was another real big guy, but a different animal from Heilmann. Simmons had a kind of swaggering way about him. The kind of guy who when somebody else was in the batting cage, would say, "Buy him a lunch, he's going to be in there all day." Simmons wouldn't win any popularity contests.

    I'm sitting there on the bench and Simmons says, "How much do you want to bet you don't hit .400?" Just like that.

    I said, "Nuts to you, Simmons, I'm not going to bet I'll hit .400. I wouldn't bet a nickel on it."

    It came to the last day of the season, and by now I was down to .39955, which, according to the way they do it, rounds out to an even .400. We had a doubleheader left at Philadelphia. I'd slumped as the weather got cooler, from a high of .436 in June, down to .402 in late August, then up again to .413 in September. In the last ten days of the season my average dropped almost a point a day. Now it was barely .400. The night before the game Cronin offered to take me out of the lineup to preserve the .400. They used to do that. Foxx lost a batting championship to Buddy Myer one year when he sat out the last game and Myer got two hits.

    I told Cronin I didn't want that. If I couldn't hit .400 all the way I didn't deserve it. It sure as hell meant something to me then, and Johnny Orlando, the clubhouse boy, always a guy who was there when I needed him, must have walked ten miles with me the night before, talking it over and just walking around. Johnny really didn't like to walk as much as I did, so I'd wait outside while he ducked into a bar for a quick one to keep his strength up. The way he tells it, he made two stops for scotch and I made two stops for ice cream walking the streets of Philadelphia.

    From My Turn at Bat by Ted Williams with John Underwood.
    Copyright © 1969, 1988 by Ted Williams and John Underwood. Reprinted with permission.
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