Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ted Williams

As I have written before, I've been a Ted Williams fan since I was a little boy and my father told me he had been in service with Ted. I never met Ted and I was very envious of my friend Hugh Morton, Jr. who had a picture of himself and Ted. Ted has been the news a couple of times today.

In the Wall Street Journal today Allen Barra has a review of the up-coming HBO Special “Ted Williams—There Goes the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived”. I don't have HBO and I hope that some of my friends who do will tape the show for me. (Do you think anyone still knows how to tape tv shows?)

This morning, the right-center field of Bloggerstan was all atwitter with stories about President Obama's throwing out the first pitch at last night's All-Star Game. See here, here, or here. Locally, even Dr. Joe couldn't help piling on. Joe certainly had the cruelest critique: "Obama throws like a girl". Joe also included a YouTube video of pitcher Steve Hamilton throwing his "floater folly" pitch, but Joe doesn't mention one of the early "floater" pitchers, Rip Sewell, and his Eephus pitch.

Ted Williams probably did more than anyone else to make the Eephus famous. In the 1946 All-Star Game, held at Fenway Park, Sewell faced Ted in the bottom of the 8th inning with the National League already behind by nine runs and with two men on base. Rip threw Ted a first Eephus pitch and Ted missed badly, but Rip couldn't stand prosperity. He tried again. On the second Eephus, Rip always said Ted popped it up. Rip said at first he thought he could catch it, and then he thought the second baseman would catch it. Finally, he thought the right fielder would surely get it. Reportedly, the ball landed many rows deep in the right field bleachers, others say it was the bullpen. The final score was 12-zip, the first All-Star shut-out, and the Eefus was legendary.

One of my other favorite Ted Williams stories involves the All-Star Game a decade later. At mid-century, two of the best players in baseball both played in Boston, but they rarely faced each other. Ted's Red Sox were in the American League, and Warren Spahn, a Hall-of-Fame left-handed pitcher was with the Boston Braves in the National League. The Red Sox and Braves did play an exhibition game each spring, and in one of those games, Spahn faced Williams and struck him out with a very tough pitch. After the game, Ted was effusive with his praise of the pitch and told Warren it was one of the toughest pitches he had ever seen. It was almost unhittable. In the 1956 All-Star Game, in Washington, DC, Spahn faced Williams in the 6th inning with the NL leading 6-0. Nellie Fox had singled ahead of Ted, so Warren badly needed to get Ted out. He decided to try his "unhittable" pitch, and Ted parked it over the big right field fence in Grifith Stadium. Rounding second base, Ted looked at Spahn and grinned, and Warren knew he'd been had! He must have lost a little concentration, as Mickey Mantle, following Ted, went back-to-back and Warren was finished for the day. The NL won the game 7-3 but Spahn had learned a valuable lesson about Ted Williams devotion to hitting.

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