Continuing along with my plan to share fun and interesting walk-off stories this winter.
This is a good day to talk about Ted Williams, both from a historic perspective for Veterans Day, and a baseball perspective with the Rookie of the Year awards announced on Monday night (Williams’ 1939 is an all-time great rookie season).
If you know your Ted Williams history, you know him for two walk-offs. The home run that ended the 1941 All-Star Game and the home run that ended his career (not an actual walk-off, but his goodbye at-bat).
But I don’t ever remember reading or hearing about any other Williams walk-offs. The reasons for that are probably that the Red Sox didn’t have a championship team during his tenure, and that, relatively speaking, Williams didn’t have that many walk-off RBIs. He totaled seven, including two home runs (by comparison, David Ortiz had 17 with the Red Sox, including 10 homers).
My hunch is that the best of those came in the one pennant-winning season of Williams career, 1946. The way the Red Sox started that season told you they could be something special. They opened 5-0 on the way to a 104-50 mark. The fifth of those wins was a bonkers opening game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics on April 21.
The Red Sox have had many improbable victories in their heralded run of success from 2003 to 2018. This game would have fit right in.
Boston had one of its ace pitchers, Boo Ferriss, on the mound, but this was not his day at all. He allowed two home runs in the first inning and seven runs in the first three frames, before being pulled. The Red Sox trailed 7-0 all the way into the bottom of the sixth inning.
Now, the Red Sox were fortunate in that they were facing an Athletics team that finished 49-105. The Red Sox took advantage, scoring five times in the home sixth, though Williams’ contribution was incidental, a walk that kept the line moving, so to speak.Teammates Johnny Pesky, Rudy York and Catfish Metkovich (what a name!) had RBI hits.
However, the Athletics responded with three runs in the top of the seventh, and another in the top of the ninth to extend their lead to 11-5. The ninth inning ended with Williams throwing George McQuinn out at the plate after a fly ball hit by future Hall-of-Famer George Kell.
No one knew it at the time, given that Boston’s deficit was six runs, but that turned out to be an important play, as was a home run robbery by Metkovich in the eighth inning (h/t Boston Globe for that detail). Reason being, the Red Sox launched an improbable rally in the bottom of the ninth.
Williams’ role was a bases-loaded single that scored two runs, chopping the deficit to 11-8. The next two batters after Williams made outs, but Metkovich (Catfish!) tied the game with a three-run home run.
The Athletics could not score in the top of the 10th and the Red Sox went to work to try to win in the bottom of the inning. With one out, weak-hitting pitcher, Joe Dobson, singled and Dom DiMaggio reached on an error. With lefty Johnny Pesky up, A’s manager Connie Mack brought in southpaw Porter Vaughan. This was Vaughan’s only appearance of the season, his first appearance in an MLB game since 1941 (he served in the Army in World War II) and in fact, the final one in his MLB career. He was in a heck of a predicament with two Red Sox on base and Williams looming.
Vaughan walked Pesky, trapping him into having to pitch to Williams with the bases loaded. Williams singled to center, scoring Dobson and giving the Red Sox a supremely unlikely victory. The Philadelphia Inquirer called the Athletics’ loss “a sad shocking affair.”
Soon thereafter Vaughan had an arm injury and retired from baseball, though I’m happy to note he had a highly successful career in real estate in his hometown Richmond, Virginia (the link goes into greater detail).
Williams went on to be arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived.
Ted Williams minutiae
– There’s another connection between Vaughan and Williams. In 1941, Williams entered the final day of the regular season trying to finish the season with a .400 batting average. Williams was hitting .3995 entering a doubleheader with the Athletics.
In the first game of the doubleheader, Williams went 4-for-5 as the Red Sox rallied from 11-3 down to win. That included two hits in two at-bats against Porter Vaughan. Williams went 6-for-8 in the doubleheader to hit .406. No one has hit .400 since.
Eerily, Vaughan and Williams faced off in two games. In each one, the Red Sox rallied from way behind to win, 12-11.
– Williams mauled the Athletics, hitting .353/.500/694 against them (he mauled every team). His 91 home runs against the Athletics were his most against any team.
– Williams is one of three players to hit an All-Star Game walk-off home run, along with Stan Musial (1955) and Johnny Callison (1964)