Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Gods don’t answer phone calls (9/28/60)Posted by Chris Jaffe
Fifty years ago today, Ted Williams ended his career in style: homering in his final big league at-bat while playing before the home crowd in Fenway. That's a pretty cool way to go out.
Making it even cooler, it was pretty much known at the time that this was his final year and thus that was his final game. Williams hadn't tipped his cap to the fans in years in Boston, and after he finished his home run trot, the fans cheered for a curtain call and a farewell hat tip. Williams opted not to.
Among 10,454 fans in the stadium that day was famous writer John Updike, who—true to his craft—wrote a story about that great baseball moment he witnessed. He ended by noting Williams' refusal to tip his cap by saying "Gods don't answer phone calls." I suppose it's only fitting that Updike would have a great line about it.
There are two great facts I love about that final game:
First, Baltimore reliever Jack Fisher threw 8.1 innings that day. He had to—manager Paul Richards yanked starter Steve Barber after he had faced only five batters. In that span, Batter walked three, hit one, tossed a wild pitch and recorded one out. He'd get pulled quickly now too, but he wouldn't get pulled that quickly. And certainly no team would leave a reliever in for 25 outs.
Second, Williams' last at-bat very nearly wasn't. He ended the game in the on-deck circle. His homer was the first sign that Fisher was tiring. After Williams' solo shot, Boston plated two more runs in the bottom of the ninth—the tying and winning runs. The game ended on a walk-off ground out.
I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised Williams went out with a great moment on Sept. 28. After all, one of his other famous career moments—arguably his most famous—came on Sept. 28, 1941. He entered that day with a 179 hits in 448 at-bats, for a batting average of .39955, which of course rounds up (ever so barely) to .400. Sept. 28 was the last day of the season and Boston had a doubleheader. Manager Joe Cronin asked Williams if he wanted to sit out and preserve the .400. Williams disdained the idea. If he was going to hit .400, no one was going to say he did it by his shoelaces.
He played both games, going 6-for-8, to raise his average to the famous .406 mark.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.