Williams was given a “day” where fans in Boston could say goodbye as he left baseball to rejoin the US Marine Corps. Even though he was turning 34 years old and had a wife and child, he’d been recalled to service because of the shortage of Marine aviators at the time of the Korean War.2
He had time to get into only six games in 1952 before having to report for duty. In 10 at-bats, he had four base hits – a .400 batting average. He also walked twice, for a .500 on-base percentage.
His final line for the ’52 season had two singles, a triple, and this home run (the 324th of his career), which won the game, a two-run homer with one out in the seventh to break a 3-3 tie. More than 45 years later, Williams remembered, “Dominic DiMaggio was on first and I launched, just launched, one into the right-field bleachers, against Dizzy Trout. Final score: Sox 5, Tigers 3.”3
The Boston Globe reported that “Williams clipped a curve ball into the [right-field] grandstand section near the runway, about eight rows deep.”4 The Boston Daily Record said, “[T]he sphere sailed majestically over Vic] Wertz’s head and landed among a group of sailors seated in the right-field bend of the grandstand.”5 It was caught by Mike Lopilato, a 36-year-old fruit vendor from Boston, and Ted swapped him a new signed ball for it after the game.6
“How did it feel? How would you feel? It felt great, great! It was a curve ball, and I hit it pretty good. I figured he would curve me.”7 Was it his greatest thrill, to win a game with a home run his last time up before going off to war, perhaps never to play again? No, he answered honestly. “The home run I hit in the 1941 All-Star Game at Detroit had this one beat 10 to 1. I don’t think anything will ever pass that.”8
It was a Wednesday afternoon game at Fenway Park. The day for Ted Williams drew 24,764. The season was young; the Red Sox were 9-2. They were hosting the Detroit Tigers whose record almost mirrored Boston’s – the Tigers were 2-8. Red Rolfe was Detroit’s manager. Lou Boudreau was in his first of three seasons managing the Red Sox. Boudreau’s starting pitcher was Mel Parnell, coming off his second All-Star season. He’d thrown a shutout in his first game of 1952 and won his second start as well, 6-3, both games against Washington.
Parnell gave up a two-out single and then a double in the top of the first, but no runs scored.
Facing Tigers starter Virgil Trucks in the first, Dom DiMaggio singled and stole second. Jim Piersall hit into a fielder’s choice on a ball hit to Trucks and DiMaggio was thrown out at third base. Williams singled to left field. Vern Stephens singled, but first baseman Walt Dropo struck out.
Neither team scored in the first four innings. Trucks struck out Williams for the final out in the third – but one of the strikes had been a foul ball that went over the right-field roof at the park, one of the few balls ever to leave the ballpark over the roof.9
The Red Sox came back and scored three times in their half of the inning. Second baseman Ted Lepcio led off with a double to left. Catcher Sammy White singled, and Lepcio went to third base. Parnell hit the ball in front of the plate. Tigers catcher Matt Batts pounced on it, but his throw to first base hit Piersall on the shoulder and caromed into right field.10 Both baserunners scored and Parnell made it all the way to third base.
DiMaggio singled in Parnell for a 3-1 lead. Dizzy Trout relieved Trucks. There was still no one out. Piersall sacrificed DiMaggio to second. Trout walked Williams – and then seemed to pick him off first base, though he made an errant throw. Trout did work his way out of the inning, though.
In the top of the seventh, Kell walked to lead off. With one out, right fielder Vic Wertz homered over the bullpen in right field, tying the game. A couple of singles followed and Ike Delock was called in from the bullpen to take over for Parnell. He got the final out, Lipon flying out to center field.
In the bottom of the seventh, DiMaggio reached on an error by first baseman Don Kolloway. After Piersall flied out to right, Ted Williams stepped into the batter’s box. He launched the home run that won the game.
Delock didn’t allow any Tigers to reach base in the eighth. The Tigers’ third pitcher, Dick Littlefield, had allowed a single and a walk, and had been victim of a double steal in the bottom of the eighth, but no run scored. Delock closed out the ninth, again without a Detroit runner reaching base.
The 5-3 final resulted in the 22-year-old rookie right-hander, Delock, improving to 2-0. Trout dropped to 0-3.
On May 2 Williams drove out of Boston with two friends to report for duty at Willow Grove, Pennsylvania.
Ted Williams Day hadn’t been a day of unalloyed praise for Williams before the game. On the field, though he had assented to the occasion but asked that no gifts be given him, he wound up with a blue Cadillac and a “memory book” signed by 400,000 well-wishers. One who hadn’t signed was an antagonist with the press, Dave Egan, who criticized Williams bitterly, writing that he should be horsewhipped instead of honored.11 He said that Williams set the “poorest possible example” for American youth. That sour note aside, the governor of Massachusetts, the mayor of Boston, and many others wished Williams well.
As it happened, Williams won the game with his home run, in what could have been his last at-bat in baseball. Afterward, manager Boudreau proclaimed, “A scriptwriter couldn’t have provided a more perfect setting. What a grand way for the big guy to bow out.”12
Less than a year in the future, Williams’s F9F Panther jet was shot up over North Korea, limped back south and crash-landed on an airstrip, Williams escaping from the aircraft just before it burst into flames. He flew 39 combat missions in Korea, serving in the same squadron as John Glenn.
This essay was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copyedited by Len Levin
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. A portion of this article is adapted from Bill Nowlin, 521 – The Story of Ted Williams’ Home Runs (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2013).
1 Earlier home runs that Williams hit off Trout homers were homers number 107, 144, 164, 221, and 283.
2 The full story of Ted Williams’s two stints in US military service during World War II and the Korean War is told in Bill Nowlin, Ted Williams at War (Burlington, Massachusetts: Rounder Books: 2007).
3 Ted Williams with David Pietrusza, My Life in Pictures (Kingston, New York: Total Sports Illustrated, 2001), 90.
4 Jack Barry, “Ted Says Au Revoir with Game-Winning Homer,” Boston Globe, May 1, 1952: 8.
5 Joe Cashman, “Ted’s Farewell Homer Wins for Red Sox, 5-3,” Boston Record, May 1, 1952: 25.
6 See photograph accompanying Jack McCarthy, “Auld Lang Syne Affects Happy, Trembling Teddy,” Boston Herald, May 1, 1952: 22.
7 Ed Rumill, “Ted Williams Writes Fictional Finish to Memorable Farewell at Fens: Red Sox Star Hits Game Winning Homer,” Christian Science Monitor. May 1, 1952: 14.
9 Murray Kramer, “Hollywood End Provided by Ted,” Boston Record, May 1, 1952: 25.
11 Dave Egan, “Ted Undeserving of Fans’ Tribute,” Boston Daily Record, April 30, 1952: 24. Egan often got on Williams’s case, a story we need not explore here.