Authors: Dan Gutman
One of the players stood up on a bench. He had a clipboard in his hand.
“Okay, knock it off, you guys!” he hollered. “Batting practice in five minutes.”
Some of the players called the guy Skip, and I realized he was Joe Cronin, the manager. He was the shortstop too. Back in the old days, it wasn't
uncommon to have player-managers.
I counted four Hall of Famers on the Red Sox: Williams, Doerr, Foxx, and Cronin. And they
hadn't come close to winning the pennant.
The players straggled out of the locker room to take the field. Ted gestured for me to come along, so I took a seat in the corner of the dugout.
Shibe Park was smaller than any ballpark I had seen; it probably had fewer than 30,000 seats. Fans were streaming in, but it didn't look like it would be a sellout, or close to it. Both teams were out of contention. Other than Ted's quest to hit .400, the game was meaningless.
The park had lights on tall poles around the outfield, but I knew that almost all the games in the 1940s were played during the day. Shibe had no padded walls or warning track. If you ran into the wall chasing a long fly, you ran into a
The scoreboard was simple. It didn't provide a lot of information other than the inning-by-inning score. There were no video screens, no fireworks displays. The foul pole was just a thin pole. There was no yellow screen to help the umpires decide if a long drive was fair or foul. There were bleachers in straightaway centerfield, which they don't have anymore because it makes it hard for a batter to see the ball leave the pitcher's hand.
I could see laundry hanging on lines in front of some houses beyond the rightfield fence.
The photographers, with those big old cameras, watched Ted warm up.
Down on the field, people cheered when Ted came out of the dugout to warm up. Photographers gathered around him with those big old-time cameras and popping flashbulbs. The other players pretended not to notice, taking their batting and fielding practice. I realized there were no batting helmets and no batting gloves. Their fielding gloves were smaller than the one I have at home. Just about all of the players were chewing tobacco and spitting constantly. The umpire was striding around holding a big chest protector that looked like a giant black pillow.
In the Athletics' dugout, I noticed a tall, thin man
signing a baseball for a little girl. He was dressed in a business suit and looked like he must have been seventy or eighty years old.
“Who's that old guy?” I asked the batboy, who was the only one in the dugout besides me.
The batboy looked at me like I was crazy.
“Are you new to this country, pal?” he said. “That's Connie Mack.”
Connie Mack! Cornelius McGillicuddy! Of course!
Hall of Famer! He had been a player back in the early days of baseball and went on to become the manager and owner of the A's for
years. I could hardly believe that I, a kid from the twenty-first
century, was sitting across the field from a man who had been a player in the nineteenth century.
“All right, boys,” the umpire yelled. “Let's play some ball!”
HE PLAYERS CLEARED THE FIELD, AND
TRIED TO MAKE
myself look invisible in the dugout. Nobody seemed to care about me, anyway. If it was okay with Ted for
me to sit there, it must have been okay with everybody else.
All the men were wearing hats.
The fans settled into their seats. Plumes of cigar smoke blanketed the standsâand lots of men with hats. The Athletics took the field, some lady came out to sing the national anthem, and the game was under way.
The pitcher for the A's was Dick Fowler, a tall right-hander. Dom DiMaggio was the leadoff batter for the Red Sox. In the dugout, nobody was talking with Ted. I guess they didn't want to say anything that would jinx his chances of hitting .400.
In the batter's box, DiMaggio tugged at his sleeve between pitches. Ted sat motionless, his eyes locked on the pitcher. After a few pitches, DiMaggio grounded out weakly to short.
Lou Finney, the rightfielder, was up. While he was batting, I realized that everybodyâplayers and fansâwere watching the game more intently than people do in the twenty-first century. It took a while for me to figure out why: no instant replay! You had to pay attention to what was happening or you didn't see it. There were no highlights to watch later. No YouTube or DVR. If you missed it, you missed it.
Finney popped up to first base. Two outs. Fowler looked sharp on the mound.
Al Flair, the Red Sox first baseman, was up next. When Ted, batting cleanup, walked out to the on-deck circle, a ripple of excitement rifled through the crowd. Now
knew he had decided to go for .400.
Ted swung two Louisville Sluggers loosely. The handles were dark because he had rubbed some kind of sticky stuff into them. He dropped one bat and gripped the other so tightly that it made a screeching sound. It was like he couldn't wait to get into the batter's box.
He would have to. Flair struck out. Three up, three down for the Sox in the first inning.
The A's ran back to their dugout, leaving their gloves in the grass on the field. I wondered when that custom ended.
I looked at the lineup sheet on the wall of the dugout. The pitcher batted ninth. There was no designated hitter, of course. That nonsense didn't start until the 1970s.
Ted jogged out to leftfield. As he tossed a ball back and forth with Dom DiMaggio in centerfield, I could tell that Ted was not a great fielder. He wasn't smooth or graceful as he ran and threw. His arms and legs flapped awkwardly. Between throws, he practiced his swing in the outfield. It was clear that the only thing that mattered to him was hitting.
The Red Sox pitcher was Dick Newsome. He looked sharp too, and set the A's down in order. No score after one inning.
“Now batting for the Boston Red Sox,” boomed the public address announcer to start the second inning, “Tedâ¦Williams.”
Even though the Red Sox were the visiting team,
the sparse crowd gave a nice round of applause to Ted. They knew what he was up against.
Before he stepped up to the plate, Ted called me over.
“So, you think you're so smart,” he said. “What am I going to do?”
“You mean right now?” I asked.
“No, next Thursday!” Ted said sarcastically. “Of
I mean right now!”
“You really want to know?” I asked him.
“You're gonna hit a single,” I told him.
Ted took a wide stance close to the plate.
Ted chuckled, shook his head, and went out to hit. I checked the defense. The infield was playing Ted
deep. I remembered that he told me he was not a fast runner, so he didn't get many infield hits. All his hits had to be clean.
I was watching his every move. You learn by watching the best.
Ted batted lefty. He pounded the dirt off his cleats with his bat and dug a little hole in the back of the batter's box with his left foot. He took his stance close to the plate, legs wide apart, with his bat close to his left shoulder. He let the bat drop across the far corner of the plate to make sure he could reach an outside pitch. Then he wiggled his hips and shoulders a few times, bending his knees as he got comfortable in the batter's box. He pumped his bat back and forth three times, then tapped it against home plate twice. As Ted waited for the first pitch, he twisted his hands in opposite directions on the bat. There was a little smile on his face, and he stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth.
Ball one came in, low and outside.
Ted didn't step out of the box between pitches. He didn't fiddle around, pick lint off his uniform, or waste time. He was working. While the pitcher fidgeted on the mound, Ted practiced his swing some more. He looked loose, like he didn't care. He kept his hands low.
Ball two, inside.
Ted refused to bite at anything that was off the
plate. Now he had the advantage. He stared in at the next pitch with greater intensity, if that was possible.
The pitch was away, but Ted liked it. He had long arms, so he could reach the outside corner. He gave the bat a little extra twist before pulling the trigger. His swing was compact and graceful. There was no wasted motion. He threw his body forward, keeping his hands back until the last possible instant. It almost seemed like he took the ball out of the catcher's mitt.
The ball took off like a shot, skipping off the dirt midway between first and second base and into rightfield.
There was no wasted motion in his swing.
The crowd erupted, and so did all the guys in the Red Sox dugout. When Ted reached first base, he turned around and looked at me. I nodded my head and mouthed the words “I told you so.”
Dom DiMaggio had a pad and pencil in his hands. He did the math and announced that Ted's batting average was now .401. A
.401âno rounding up necessary.
Joe Cronin signaled for Ted to come back to the dugout and let a pinch runner take his place. Ted shook his head no. He wanted to keep playing.
As it turned out, the Red Sox could not score in the inning. When the third out was made, Ted jogged back to the dugout. Everybody shook his hand, then he sat next to me before taking his position in leftfield.
“Okay, you got lucky that time, Junior,” he told me. “What do you think I'm gonna do
I didn't hesitate.
“You're gonna hit a homer.”
Ted didn't get another chance to bat until the fifth inning, with the A's leading 2â0. Dick Fowler was still pitching.
This time when Ted stepped up to the plate, the A's tried something different. Their entire defense shifted to the right. The rightfielder went all the way into the corner, and the first baseman stood behind the bag. The centerfielder went to rightfield,
the third baseman positioned himself behind second base, and the shortstop moved to the right of him. The A's had almost their entire defense positioned on the right side of the field with only one playerâthe leftfielderâcovering the other half.
Ted was a pull hitter, so they stacked the defense to the right side.
It made sense, I guess. Ted was a pull hitter. He hit almost every ball to the right side of the diamond, so they might as well stack the defense over there. All he had to do was to poke a grounder to the left side and he'd have an easy doubleâ¦or more.
Ted looked at the shift and laughed.
Ball one, high and outside.
The next pitch was fat, and Ted jumped all over it. Now, I've seen some long shots in my life. Usually, the ball goes up and then curves down, like a rainbow. But this one curved up like a plane taking off. There must have been a tremendous amount of spin
on the ball. It was still rising when it sailed over the rightfield fence.
It didn't matter
the A's put the defense. They couldn't stop him.
The crowd went crazy. Dom DiMaggio worked it out on paper and told everybody that Ted's average was now .402.
It didn't matter where they put the defense. They couldn't stop him.
“I told you so,” I said after Ted had circled the bases.
“How did you know that?” he whispered.
“Like I told you,” I said. “I have a sixth sense.”