Putting Dream Season to Rest Is Just Fine By Ted Williams

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Hall of Famer Ted Williams says that as a hitter he "never was quite as strong" after breaking his left elbow at the age of 32 while making a catch against the wall in the 1950 All-Star game.

But the former Boston Red Sox slugger says the injury made him a smarter hitter -- so smart that seven years later he led the American League with a .388 average.

"What kept me going was the fact I was a little smarter and they (fielders) spread out a little because they thought I couldn't pull the ball," Williams said. "What an advantage it is when they're playing the left-field line, the right-field line, spread out all over the place.

"All you have to do is keep hitting the ball hard and it will find a hole. For a long while, though, I didn't have that advantage because I pulled the ball too much and didn't have holes."

In 1941, his third season with the Red Sox, Williams, a gangling outfielder nicknamed "The Kid," didn't need any holes. He hit .406 in the same year that Joe DiMaggio set a record by hitting safely in 56 consecutive games. No one has hit .400 since, and no one ever has really challenged DiMaggio's amazing streak.

Williams, who ended his career in 1960 with a .344 lifetime batting average and 521 homers despite time lost in World War II and the Korean War, returned to Boston on Tuesday night to be honored on the 50th anniversary of his historic season. About 600 people attended a $200-a-plate dinner for the benefit of the Lupus Foundation and Scleroderma Research Fund.

Williams, now 73, told a news conference that after 50 years "to be continuously recognized is a nice feeling." But, he added, "somewhere along the line it gets a little tiresome. You don't mind that, but I'll be kinda glad when this starts on the next 50 years."

Despite his league-leading .388 average in 1957, Williams said he never even though of hitting .400 again. That year he beat out Mickey Mantle, who hit a career-high .365.

"Mantle was having the greatest year and he was my target," Williams said. "I never thought of .400, but many pitchers felt they never saw anyone hit the ball better than me. I hit balls that flew all over the joint. And, of course, they had loosed up the defense on me a little bit. They thought I couldn't pull the ball any more and all of a sudden I was getting holes.

"Then after I hit .388, people started picking it apart, like how many hits, seven or eight or whatever, it would have taken to get to .400. A funny thing about that year, I think I had 9 or 10 or 11 infield hits. The same year Mantle had 49 infield hits."

Like most baseball fans, Williams enjoyed the recent World Series, won by the Minnesota Twins with a 1-0 victory in 10 innings in the seventh game with the Atlanta Braves.

Williams was so impressed that he predicted "a lot" of players on both teams eventually will make the Hall of Fame -- just as many members of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Red Sox did after their memorable seven-game World Series in 1946.

Williams said the Twins' victory over the Braves was "a great World Series," but stopped short of calling it the greatest of all time.

"Everything happened that could happen, pretty near, in baseball," Williams said. "But I can't say it was the greatest.

"I do think it was a great Word Series, and it certainly ranks up there -- seven games, 10 innings in the last game, four games decided by one run, even two games lost by mistakes on the basepaths."

Williams said he was most impressed by the young talent in the series.

"I saw a lot of talent, an awful lot of talent," he said. "Good hitters, good infielders, young pitchers, talent, talent, talent, no question about it."

Then, referring to the 1946 World Series and the number of players who went on to the Hall of Fame, Williams said: "Yeah, and a lot of these guys are going to make the Hall of Fame, too."

Less flamboyant but still with definite opinions, Williams touched on many subjects before being honored at the dinner:

-- On baseball's ban on electing Pete Rose to the Hall of Fame: "On his baseball ability he certainly does (belong). I have a feeling he'll get in some day, but it's going to take a while."

-- On the AL designated hitter rule: "It came in after I was through playing, and I thought it was a pretty good idea. But it changes the strategy of the game ... I think it's usefulness has worn out, and if I had a choice I would go back to having pitchers hit or take them out."

-- On the best hitter he ever saw: "I've been asked that a lot and I've always said Joe DiMaggio. But then I think of (Willie) Mays, (Hank) Aaron and (Stan) Musial. And then there's (Al) Kaline, Frank Robinson, (Carl) Yastrzemski and Mantle. So I don't know."

-- On the Red Sox' recent firing of manager Joe Morgan and promotion of Butch Hobson from the minors to replace him: "I personally think Joe Morgan did an outstanding job. I'm particularly fond of Joe, but I can also see how the change could be made because they have a young fellow who has managed the kids (in the minors).

"I don't know what they were thinking. They didn't call me. I thought Joe was a darn good manager. I also think Butch Hobson is going to be an outstanding manager. He played 10 years in the major leagues and he's managed five years in the minors. He's had a lot of experience in pressure sports and he's a real gung-ho guy."

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