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On This Date in Sports: September 28, 1960: Ted Williams Says Good Bye

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In his final at-bat, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox hits a home run off Jack Fisher of the Baltimore Orioles. The 10,454 in attendance at Fenway Park give “the Splendid Splinter” a standing ovation as he leaves the game, ending a Hall of Fame career. Ted Williams finished his career with a .344 average, 2,654 hits, and 521 home runs with 1,839 RBI in a 21-year career in which five prime seasons were lost due to military service.

Theodore Samuel Williams was born on August 30, 1918, in San Diego. Raised in San Diego, Williams received offers from the St. Louis Cardinals but decided to sign with the home town San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League, at his mother’s request. Williams quickly became a star in San Diego. When Ted Williams turned 20, his mother felt he was old enough to leave home, paving the way to sign with the Boston Red Sox before the 1939 season. 

Ted Williams was the most hyped rookie since Joe DiMaggio when he joined the Red Sox. He would not disappoint, batting .327 with 31 home runs and a league-best 145 RBI, as he finished fourth in MVP voting. Two years later, Williams hit .406 to win the first of six batting crowns. No player has hit .400 since. Ted Williams followed up his .400 season by winning Triple Crown in 1942, hitting .356 with 36 home runs and 137 RBI. Both seasons would see Williams finish second in MVP voting to Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon of the New York Yankees. 

Uncle Same came to call up Ted Williams in 1943, as he served as a Naval Aviator in World War II. He would become a talented fighter pilot serving as a flight instructor in Pensacola as he became a second lieutenant in the Marines. Before Ted Williams was to ship out to Japan, the war ended, allowing him to return to the Red Sox in 1946. Upon returning to Boston, Ted Williams led the Red Sox to their first World Series appearance in 28 years, while winning the first of two MVP awards. 

It would be the only World Series appearance for Ted Williams, who, despite being one of the best hitters in baseball, was never able to win a World Series. Ted Williams would hear the call to service again in 1952, as his Marine Reserve unit was activated. By now, he had achieved the rank of captain. While serving in the Korean War, he flew 39 combat missions, serving as John Glenn’s wingman. Following the Korean War, Williams left the reserve and returned to the Red Sox in 1953.

Through all the service time, Ted Williams lost five prime years. Had he the wars not happened, Ted Williams would have achieved 3,000 hits instead of retiring with 2,654 hits in a 19-year career. He also could have had 600 home runs and possibly make a run at Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs. When Ted Williams hit his 500th home run, only Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Mel Ott had joined the club before him. The Williams would hit a home run in his final at-bat, retiring with 521 home runs. At the time, only Ruth and Foxx (534) had hit more. 

In 1959, Ted Williams, following two consecutive batting titles, had the worst season of his career. Williams, a lifetime .344 hitter, batted .254 with ten home runs and 43 RBI. It was the only season he did not finish with a .300 or better batting average. The Red Sox management urged Williams to retire. However, he did not want to end his career on a downer and returned for the 1960 season. Ted Williams had a good season for a bad Red Sox club, batting .316 with 29 home runs and 75 RBI. 

The Red Sox went into the final home game of the 1960 season with a record of 64-86 under manager Pinky Higgins. They faced the Baltimore Orioles, who had a good season at 87-64 for Paul Richards. Though they had three games left against the New York Yankees in the Bronx, Ted Williams ended his career at home. At times he had a tumultuous relationship with the fans of Boston. However, fans by 1960 had come to regard Ted Williams as the Red Sox most revered player.

Steve Barber made a start for Baltimore and could not find the plate. Barber had three walks, a hit batter, and a wild pitch and was removed with one out. Jack Fisher came in and restored order as only one additional run scored. The Orioles quickly tied the game on a home run by Gus Triandos off Boston starter Billy Muffett. The Orioles would get runs in the fourth and the fifth to take a 4-2 lead.

The Orioles led 4-2 when Ted Williams came to the plate for the final time, with the best on-base percentage in baseball history at .482. He had a walk and two fly outs. Ted Williams drove the ball to center field for his 521st home run. Williams received a large ovation but refused to acknowledge the fan, still holding a grudge from his early days.  Carroll Hardy would replace Ted Williams in left field, as the Splendid Splinter ended a splendid career. The Red Sox would win the game 5-4 on a walk-off error, as an attempt to end the game with a double play went awry when Bill Klaus throw sailed away, allowing the tying and winning runs to score.