“Teddy Ballgame” Hits .406

Ted Williams’ greatest feat as a baseball player, hitting above .400, never got its due until long after he retired, which is fitting because Williams was convinced he never got his due from Boston Red Sox fans or sportswriters.  Williams — who twice won baseball’s greatest accomplishment, the Triple Crown, yet was not voted the league’s MVP in either of those years — became the last player ever to hit above .400 when he collected six hits in eight at bats in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics that concluded the 1941 baseball season.  That historic event occurred this week on September 28.

The 1941 season had been a stellar one for Williams, and although his batting average had jumped around, going as high as .436 in June and staying well above .400 in early September, his average during the month of September dropped significantly, the not-unusual result of the hot weather and the fact that baseball’s long season usually wears out players by late September.  In the opening game of the season-ending three-game series against the Athletics, Williams went 1 for 4, bringing his average down to .3995 and prompting his manager, Joe Cronin, to consider holding him out of the season’s last two games. Cronin knew that the .3995 average would be rounded up to .400, meaning that, technically speaking, Williams had batted .400.

But the man many believe is baseball’s greatest hitter ever would have nothing to do with technicalities. Williams told Cronin that not only would he play in the first game of the double-header, even if he got enough hits in that game to go above .400, he still wanted to play in the final game. “The record’s no good,” Williams said, “unless it’s made in all the games.”

And so Williams collected six hits in eight plate appearances in the two games played on September 28 — four singles, a double and a home run — to bring his batting average up to .406.  No one has ever hit .400 since, and only two men, Kansas City’s George Brett (.390) and San Diego’s Tony Gwynn (.394 in a strike-shortened season), have even come close.

Which was part of the problem in terms of giving Williams his due.  Hitting .400, while rare in the first half of the century, was not unthinkable, so when Williams accomplished it no one knew that 71 years later, and counting, it would not be matched.  Only now do we realize how superhuman, and historic, it was.

Speaking of which, September 28 was a pretty special day for Williams all around.  On September 28, 1960, the 42-year-old Williams hit his 521st home run in the final game — indeed, with the final swing — of his illustrious career.