When a lanky native of San Diego hit a home run on September 28, 1960, it was not, perhaps, the most significant happening in his career—and certainly not the most significant happening in world affairs during the ninth month of the 60th year of the 20th century.
Ted Williams won two MVP Awards, the Triple Crown, and The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award seven times. His career statistics include 521 home runs, .344 batting average, and .634 slugging percentage. On that late September day, for the last time, Williams donned his Red Sox uniform, heard the cheers from the Fenway Park denizens, and went yard in his last at bat in the major leagues.
Legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post noted that the excellence of the Red Sox slugger negated any revelatory aspects of the milestone. “It shouldn’t have been surprising. Williams has been making a commonplace of the dramatic homer ever since he came into the majors,” wrote Povich.
Still, an emotional charge laced the moment as Williams placed a period at the end of a 22-year career, all in a Red Sox uniform. Nicknamed “The Splendid Splinter” for his batting prowess, Williams understood the impact of the home run. “The first thing he did after the game was to send the home run bat to Tom Yawkey upstairs by bat boy Bobby Sullivan. Then he hung around and soaked up praise and adulation, the admiring glances of those who would not approach, the warmth of a winning clubhouse—as he never would again,” wrote Harold Kaese in the Boston Globe.
Nonetheless, Williams did not tip his hat to the crowd.
About three weeks after Williams’s last game, The New Yorker published John Updike’s account in its October 22, 1960 issue; “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” stands as a model of baseball writing. It is an honest appraisal of the dynamic fostered in the Red Sox legend’s adopted city. Updike wrote, “The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing of shared memories.”
Additionally, an unparalleled work ethic, according to Updike, set Williams apart from his peers. “No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy,” opined Updike.
Invoking the theory of ceteris paribus—all things being equal—Williams’s home run might have been in the 600s rather than the 500s had he not served his country during World War II. A hero for his service as a pilot, Williams did not play professional baseball from 1943 to 1945, losing three years in his prime. When Williams returned in 1946, he showed no signs of slowing down—MVP Award, .342 batting average, and 123 RBI. Additionally, he led the major leagues in walks (156), slugging percentage (.667), on-base percentage (.497), and runs scored (142).
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 16, 2015.