The Kid takes the moundby Frank Jackson
August 23, 2013
Ted Williams probably said more nasty things about pitchers than any other hitter. Most hitters reserved their enmity for specific pitchers, but Williams had a mad-on against the position itself. “Pitchers are the dumbest people,” was an oft-heard comment while he was the manager of the Senators/Rangers. Of course, this was three decades after Williams himself took the mound for the Red Sox on an August afternoon in 1940.
The fans who witnessed Ted’s moundsmanship probably didn’t appreciate the historic nature of his two-inning stint because it occurred so early in his career (he was only 21 or 22, depending on what date you accept as his birth date).
Williams broke in with a bang at age 20 in 1939, leading the American League in RBIs (145) and total bases (344). His struggled a bit during portions of his sophomore season, yet he went on to lead the league in runs (134) and OBP (.442) to go along with a .344 average, 23 home runs, and 113 RBIs.
On August 24 of that sophomore season, the Red Sox were playing the Tigers in a Saturday double-header at Fenway Park. The game was tied at one run apiece after two innings, then the Detroit offense took charge, mauling both starter Joe Heving and reliever Yank Terry. The Tigers scored six runs in the third, and added two more in both the fourth and fifth innings to take an 11-1 lead.
Herb Hash (sounds like a menu item at a vegetarian restaurant) came in to restore some order and pitched 2.2 scoreless innings, but his holding action was in vain, since the Red Sox offense never got going. After seven innings, Tiger starter Tommy Bridges was still going strong, and the Red Sox’ chances of mounting a comeback were infinitesimal. Sox manager Joe Cronin could have left Hash in the game or gone to another pitcher, but there was more involved than the outcome of the game.
First of all, there was the second game to think of. Might want to bring Hash back later in the day, so no need in overextending him or bringing in another pitcher whose might be needed later. In fact, the Red Sox were scheduled to play two more games against the Browns the very next day, so Cronin couldn’t afford to dwell on what was likely a lost cause. At the time, the Red Sox had a record of 63-55, and they were still in the hunt for the AL pennant (eventually won by the Tigers who had a 67-52 record going into the game).
So what to do? Well, the solution literally came out of left field.
Why Cronin chose Williams to do the honors is a matter of speculation, but it was not without precedent. The year before, he had sent in Jimmie Foxx to pitch an inning.
One might think Cronin would be worried about his young phenom getting hurt. Damage to the throwing arm is always a possibility, as José Canseco found out while mopping up for the Rangers in a 1993 contest. And you can’t discount the possibility of a Herb Score-style injury. The low line drive up the middle is an occupational hazard faced by all pitchers, but to put a valuable young position player in such danger in a blowout invites second-guessing.
In those days, Williams’ dedication to fielding left something to be desired. Frequently spotted practicing his swing while playing the field, Williams’ true passion was all too obvious. In his rookie year, Williams led all American League outfielders in errors with 19, then added 13 more in 1940.
On the other hand, in his rookie year, he was third in the league with 11 assists, and followed that up with 13 more (just one behind league leader, Hank Greenberg) in 1940.
While Williams is forever associated with the famed Green Monster in left field at Fenway Park, he played right field exclusively during his rookie season. Before the construction of the right field bullpens, there was even more ground to cover than there is today. Obviously, the Red Sox would not have put him there if he did not have a strong arm.
In 1940 the lion’s share of his appearances were in left field, but he could still be found in right occasionally in 1940, 1941 and 1942. After that, it was left field all the way.
Given the fact that he had a strong arm, it is not surprising that Williams was a pitcher of some renown in high school. Having developed an outstanding curve ball, he was good enough to strike out 20 batters in one game. Of course, in contrast to his offensive exploits, his efforts on the mound paled in comparison.
Even after turning pro, Williams liked to fool around with a curve ball while warming up before games, so perhaps Cronin was curious to see it in competition. Or he might have figured if Williams wasn’t holding his own in the outfield, then why not put him on the mound where he could at least help the team by eating a couple of innings?
Considering Williams had but one outing on the mound in the minors, the results were not that bad. The Tigers did not score against him in the eighth inning but broke through for one run in the ninth. They might not have scored at all, but third baseman Charlie Gelbert juggled a potential double-play ball and had to settle for one out. So Williams’ lifetime ERA went into the books at 4.50. His career totals are two innings, three hits, one walk, and one strikeout.
That one strikeout was a memorable one, as Williams fanned Rudy York on three pitches. Until then, York had been enjoying quite a game, going 4 for 5 with a homer, a double, and 5 RBIs. One suspects that the incident was frequently rehashed when York and Williams were Red Sox teammates in the early 1950s.
Williams’ two-inning career as a pitcher is no more than a footnote in his career. Same goes for pitcher Jim Bagby, who took over in left for Williams. This was the first time Bagby had ever played any position other than pitcher in his pro career.
Now it’s not unheard of for a manager to switch a pitcher with a position player for one batter, then put the pitcher back on the mound. But two full innings playing left field? When you’ve never played there before? With all the weird bounces possible off the Green Monster, which has confounded many an experienced left fielder? Bagby probably felt more uncomfortable than Williams. Still, the score was 11-1, so how much worse could it be with a novice in left field?
In the second game of the double-header, Cronin continued his policy of saving his pitchers. He left in starter Bill Fleming for eight innings before bringing in George Dickman for the ninth. Fleming gave up seven runs on 12 hits and left with the Tigers ahead 7-6. Cronin’s judgment in not going to the bullpen earlier might have been suspect, but he got away with it, as the Red Sox scored two in the bottom of the ninth to win the game 8-7 and earn a split on the day without overtaxing the pitching staff..
The Ted Williams mound show also had an intriguing supporting act. Jimmie Foxx was the starting catcher for the Red Sox in the first game. Though better known for playing first, third, or the outfield, Foxx had logged time behind the plate throughout his career. In fact, by the end of his career, he had played every position save for the jackrabbit positions: center field, second base, and shortstop.
The first game on August 24 was just one of 42 games he started behind the plate for the Red Sox in 1940. A battery of Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx, even for two innings, would surely be an MLB record for battery mates with the most lifetime home runs.
According to an oft-told tale, when Williams was at spring training in 1938, Bobby Doerr told him, “Wait till you see Foxx hit.” Supposedly, Williams replied, “Wait till Foxx sees me hit!” Well, Williams denied he ever said that, but it has passed into baseball lore. On this day, he had the opportunity to say, “Wait till Foxx sees me pitch.” And Foxx did...but not from behind the plate.
Unfortunately, Foxx was out of the game by the time Williams came in to pitch. After all, Foxx was 32 years old and there was no sense wasting his energy behind the plate in a blowout when there was so much more baseball to be played that day and the next. But while that historical opportunity was lost, another presented itself.
Foxx’s replacement was one Joe Glenn. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s not surprising. After eight seasons, Glenn had just five home runs, 89 RBIs and a .252 batting average to show for his efforts. I don’t think it’s out of line to use the adjective “obscure” in describing him. But he had one distinctive game on his resume early in his career.
In 1932 and 1933, he had been called up by the Yankees for limited duty, six games the first year, five the latter. With Bill Dickey as the Yankees’ starting catcher, opportunities for other backstops were limited.
The last of Glenn’s five appearances in 1933 was on October 1, the last day of the season, when he served as battery mate for Babe Ruth during his only appearance as a pitcher in Yankee Stadium, and his final appearance as a pitcher anywhere. Glenn caught the entire game, a 6-5 win over the Red Sox.
Safe to say that was surely Glenn’s most memorable game to that point in his career. The next season he was back in the minors, but at least he had an interesting tale to tell his teammates at Newark.
Glenn returned to the Yankees in 1935 and remained for four seasons of backup duty. In 1939, at age 31, he had his busiest season with the St. Louis Browns, for whom he played in 88 games, came to bat 286 times, and hit.273.
In 1940 the Red Sox purchased him from the Browns. His playing time was much more limited (just 22 games), but one of those appearances included that two-inning stint with Williams on the mound.
As obscure as Glenn was, he could boast that he was the only man alive who had caught both Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Neither Bill Dickey nor Jimmie Foxx nor anyone else could make that claim. As it turned out, it was Joe Glenn’s last appearance of the 1940 season.
In 1941, Glenn was back in the minors – to stay. So the Ted Williams interlude was the swan song of his career, not just the season. As was the case after the 1933 season, Glenn had an interesting tale to tell his minor league teammates.
As for Williams...well, we all know what he did in 1941.
Frank Jackson has published previous baseball articles in National Pastime and Elysian Fields Quarterly. He was weaned on baseball at Connie Mack Stadium.