Ted Williams is considered by many to be the greatest hitter in Major League Baseball history. Whether you believe that or not, there's no arguing he was certainly one of the best to ever pick up a bat. Eighty-one years ago today, the man known as "The Splendid Splinter," blasted his first career home run.
Williams debuted for the Boston Red Sox as a 20-year-old on April 20, 1939 against the New York Yankees. He went 1-for-4 with a double off Red Ruffing. Three days later he went 4-for-5 with a double, two singles and a two-run home run off Bud Thomas. He would hit 520 more in his career.
Despite a three-year interruption in his career to fight in World War II and missing nearly two years to serve in the Korean War, Williams was a 17-time All-Star, a two-time MVP, a six-time American League batting champion and won the Triple Crown twice (1942, 1947). He finished his career with 2,654 hits, 521 home runs, 525 doubles, 1,839 RBI, a ridiculous career batting average of .344, the highest on-base percentage in major league history at .482 and an OPS of 1.116. Without those missed seasons in the middle of his prime, he certainly would have accumulated even more impressive stats.
Williams played his entire 19-year career with the Red Sox and, sadly, never won a World Series. The Red Sox reached the World Series in Williams' MVP season of 1946, but they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. He retired in 1960, famously blasting a home run in his final at-bat. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.
Williams is remembered for being a student of the game. He studied the art of hitting and made himself better by working at his craft. He was famous for using a smaller, lighter bat and focusing on bat speed to create his power. He was a marvel for his ability to hit balls in every zone of the plate.
Perhaps even more impressive is that Williams, along with many other baseball players, voluntarily gave up his career to serve his country. Williams served in both World War II and Korea. Instead of opting for a cushy job out of the way, he became a pilot. He never flew a combat mission in World War II because the war ended while he was awaiting orders at Pearl Harbor. He finally saw action in Korea though, flying 39 combat missions in an F9F Panther, during some of which he served as future astronaut John Glenn's wingman.
There was far more to Williams than his abilities on a the field. But the world got to know him as a baseball star. His ascension to the spotlight began 81 years ago when he broke out in a big way for the Red Sox by belting his first big league home run.