And here we are in the single digits. The land of baseball immortals. If you are an active player to be mixed in for the remainder of our daily countdown to Major League Baseball’s Opening Series on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia, you better be Hall-bound.
We begin the royal rollout at No. 9 with the best hitter in baseball history. Ted Williams began his book, “The Science of Hitting,” with these words: “Hitting a baseball — I’ve said it a thousand times — is the single most difficult thing to do in sport.” And he began his Red Sox career — one that would last from 1939-60, with long pauses for war service — by ripping a double on Opening Day.
It was April 20, 1939. On the other side of the world, Germany was celebrating Adolph Hitler’s 50th birthday as a national holiday. At Yankee Stadium, two future Hall of Fame pitchers were on the mound for a classic duel: Red Ruffing for the Yankees and Lefty Grove for the Red Sox. Lou Gehrig was starting at first base for the Bronx Bombers, playing in his 2,123rd consecutive game.
Boston had traded right fielder Ben Chapman to Cleveland over that winter to make room for Williams on the roster, and The Kid from San Diego inherited Chapman’s No. 9. Williams batted sixth in the Sox order coming out of Spring Training, and his double that day was one of seven hits scattered by Ruffing in a 2-0 shutout.
The Red Sox headed up the coast for their home opener the next day against the Philadelphia A’s, and Williams singled for his first RBI. The next day, 2-for-4 with a double and RBI. The day after that, 4-for-5, with his first homer, a double and two singles. Look at his 1939 game log, and you can see that Opening Day got him started on, appropriately enough, a 9-game hitting streak.
In that rookie season, Williams led the American League in total bases (344) and RBIs (145). He struck out only 64 times in 675 plate appearances, and that would be far above any season total the rest of his career. Opening Day1939 introduced the man who would require many nicknames: Teddy Ballgame, Splendid Splinter, Thumper, The Kid. He would compile a career slash line of .344/.482/.634, with that on-base percentage ranking atop the all-time list. There were 521 homers, 2,654 hits and 1,798 runs, and one only can imagine how many more had he not given effectively five seasons to service in the theaters of either World War II or Korea. Here are MLB.com videos for a career retrospective and his Hall of Fame speech:
Continuing a tradition, the Red Sox of Ted Williams open another regular season on March 31 at Baltimore, and the home opener is April 4 against Milwaukee as the world champs raise their flag at the site of baseball’s last celebration. Have you made your 2014 plans yet? MLB Schedule | Tickets
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