The Red Sox finished in second place, as they had in 1939, but were again a distant second, 17 games behind the New York Yankees. This was the year that sparked thousands of debates centered around the question: which was the greater accomplishment, Ted Williams batting .406 or Joe DiMaggio hitting in 56 consecutive games. Neither mark has been matched since.
You wouldn’t think that fracturing your ankle in spring training would help you hit .400, but that seems to be what happened with Ted. He suffered a hairline fracture while sliding into second base and it bothered him enough that there was a slight – maybe subconscious – hesitation in his swing. That gave him a fraction of a second longer to size up the ball. He himself said the ball looked like a watermelon coming in that year.
Ted was around .400 most of the season, and he was hitting .405 just before the All-Star Break. He traveled to Detroit and played in the game, coming up to bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. There were two men on base, but the National League was leading, 5-4. Ted banged a home run to win the game, and most baseball fans have seen the film of the lanky 22-year-old “Splendid Splinter” as he galloped around the bases, almost bouncing on air at time. Williams always said that this was the greatest thrill of his career.
From July 25, he was above .400 for the rest of the season – until the last day. The day before the September 28 doubleheader his average had dipped to .3996. He went 6-for-8 on the final day and boosted his average all the way to .406.
Williams walked 147 times and his on-base percentage of .553 was the best in major-league history, until N.L. pitchers, fearful after Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, just started walking him, blowing everyone else out of the water with higher OBP marks in 2002 and 2004.
There was another milestone reached in 1941. Lefty Grove won his 300th game on August 16. He’d pitched so well at Fenway Park in 1940 and 1941 that he won 21 consecutive home games. That streak was broken in his second home start, but he was 7-7 on the year and reached the coveted 300 mark.
Ted drove in 120 runs, Foxx 105, and Jim Tabor 101. Ted scored 135, and Dom DiMaggio scored 117. Dick Newsome won 19 games, Charlie Wagner (12-8) led the club with a 3.05 ERA, and Joe Dobson won a dozen games, too. The club ERA was 4.19, almost three-quarters of a run better than in 1940.By Bill Nowlin
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- Charlie Wagner, Dick Newsome, Dom DiMaggio, Jim Tabor, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Dobson, Lefty Grove, Ted Williams