This was a real transition year. It was the end of one era and the start of another. It was the year that one of the most highly-anticipated rookie arrivals in Red Sox history took place. The Kid – Ted Williams – broke in with the Red Sox, a true fan favorite from the beginning. He developed a bit of a reputation as a “screwball”, thanks to antics such as miming his batting stance while waiting for action out in right field, or lifting his cap up by the button to acknowledge fans applauding a big hit. But he delivered with the bat, and more than seven decades later still holds the major-league rookie record for the most runs batted in (145). He also showed patience uncharacteristic of someone just 20 years old, and set a rookie record for bases on balls (107), too. Williams’ .609 slugging percentage is an A.L. rookie record. He scored 131 runs and have 86 extra-base hits, both of which remain Red Sox rookie records.

Williams did play right field throughout this first season, switching to left beginning in 1940. The Red Sox had such faith in his readiness that they had shipped Ben Chapman to the Cleveland Indians for Denny Galehouse and Tommy Irwin.

In his first game, April 20 at Yankee Stadium, Williams doubled off Red Ruffing for his first major-league hit; more remarkably, he played in a game populated by a large number of future Hall of Famers: Cronin, Dickey, DiMaggio, Doerr, Foxx, Gehrig, Gordon, Grove, Ruffing, and Williams. Lefty Gomez was suited up and watched from the bench. It was the only game in which Williams and Gehrig both played.

Perhaps typifying some of the transition that occurred in 1939, on May 9, the Sox chartered airplanes to fly the team from St. Louis to Chicago, thereby becoming the first team to travel by air. Four or five players elected to take the train instead.

It was another second place finish; despite winning 89 games, but second place still saw them a full 17 games behind the Yankees. The Red Sox had the highest team batting average in the league, but New York had – by a large margin – the best ERA in the league, 3.31 to Boston’s 4.56.

Williams had the most RBIs, but Cronin drove in 107 and Foxx drove in 105. Foxx’s .360 average led the team, and his 130 runs scored was just one behind Ted. Lefty Grove was 15-4. Jack Wilson, Fritz Ostermueller, and Joe Heving each won 11.

By Bill Nowlin
Ben Chapman, Denny Galehouse, Fritz Ostermueller, Jack Wilson, Joe Cronin, Joe Heving, Lefty Grove, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Tommy Irwin


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