After missing most of 1952 and 1953 while serving in the Marines, Ted Williams hoped to get in a full year of baseball – which he said would be his last – but he lasted less than an hour of spring training before breaking his collarbone diving for a fly ball. It was March 1.
He had a metal pin inserted to hold his shoulder together and didn’t start a game until May 16, when he came back and went 8-for-9 in a doubleheader in Detroit against the Tigers, with two home runs and seven RBIs. Despite the one-man wrecking crew, Boston lost both games, 7-6 and (in 14 innings) 9-8. Casey Stengel opined that perhaps all his Yankees ought to have pins placed in their shoulders. At the time, the Red Sox were dead last in the standings, 8 ½ games out of first place.
Williams would have won the batting title, on the strength of his .345 average, but he faced a problem. He drew 136 bases on balls. At the time, qualification for the batting crown was based on at-bats, and Ted had just walked too much. He had 386 at-bats, instead of the 400 he needed to qualify, even though he had 526 plate appearances. Basically, he was penalized for being too good a hitter (17 of the walks were intentional walks, and many of the others came from pitchers wary of putting the ball over the plate). Bobby Avila was awarded the title, with his .341 average. The rules were soon changed, but Williams went without the title.
Despite missing more than a month at the start of the season, Ted still led the club with 29 homers. Jackie Jensen hit 25 and led in runs batted in with 117 to Ted’s 89. A rising star was rookie first baseman Harry Agganis. He’d been such a star athlete at Boston University that even though he’d declared he wanted to play baseball, the Cleveland Browns had drafted him for football, on the off-chance that he might opt for the gridiron instead of sticking with his plans to join the Red Sox. Harry hit 11 homers and drove in 57 runs in his first year.
Right-hander Frank Sullivan was 15-12, with a 3.14 ERA. Willard Nixon was 11-12 and Tommy Brewer 10-9. The Red Sox were 84-69 in 1953; they were 69-85 in 1954, and finished fourth. The league was dominated by the Cleveland Indians and their 111 wins, more than any team had ever achieved. That left the Red Sox 42 games out of first place.
Because Ted Williams had announced his retirement, his final game was meant to be the September 26 game at Fenway Park. He didn’t hit a home run his last time up – but he did so on his next-to-last at-bat, in the bottom of the seventh.
Lou Boudreau still had a year left on his contract, but he was let go in mid-October, and Pinky Higgins was named Red Sox manager.By Bill Nowlin
- Bobby Avila, Casey Stengel, Frank Sullivan, Harry Agganis, Jackie Jensen, Lou Boudreau, Pinky Higgins, Ted Williams, Tom Brewer, Willard Nixon