Would Ted Williams trade 18 points off his batting average for a game-winning home run? We can’t know the answer. Probably the answer would be “yes,” in that there’s always time to build up one’s batting average.
As it happens, Williams hit over .400 in 1953 anyhow.
This game wasn’t long after Williams had been discharged after serving 15 months in the Marine Corps flying combat missions over North Korea. After he returned Stateside, he had pinch-hit in seven games during the first half of August. His first full game was on August 16 in the second game of a doubleheader. And it’s not as though he was hitting poorly – he entered the August 31 game batting .447. That he was 1-for-4 in this game brought his average down to .429, an 18-point drop, but still a more than respectable average. He had missed more than 100 games before being activated; it wasn’t as though he was in contention for the batting title.
On August 31 the Red Sox played a night game at Cleveland Stadium. The Indians were riding a six-game winning streak that included sweeping two from the Red Sox the day before.
The eight-column headline in the next day’s Cleveland Plain Dealer read, “Williams’ Homer Sinks Indians, 6-4.”1 Back in Boston, the Boston Globe headline said: “3-Run Homer by Williams Wins for Sox.”2 Friends and family following back in his native San Diego would have read, “Williams’ Homer Tops Tribe, 6-4.”3
Before the home run, the Red Sox left fielder had been having a rough day.
Starting for Cleveland was Mike Garcia. He was 16-7 before the game, and the Al López-led Indians were in third place with a record of 76-53. They were just a game and a half behind the second-place White Sox. Garcia struck out Williams in the first inning on a called third strike. That was disappointing to the Red Sox; with one out, right fielder Jimmy Piersall had walked and then, while Williams was batting, he had stolen second base. But Williams struck out and third baseman George Kell flied out to left.
The Red Sox scored once in the top of the second. First baseman Billy Goodman doubled to left-center. McDermott, a good-hitting pitcher batting sixth in Lou Boudreau’s batting order, reached on an error by the second baseman. Goodman took third on the play. Catcher Sammy White grounded into a force play, second baseman to shortstop, while Goodman scored for a 1-0 lead.
McDermott set himself up for trouble again in the bottom of the second. Shortstop George Strickland doubled to left field. McDermott then walked catcher Jim Hegan. Garcia grounded one back to McDermott, who threw to second for a force out, and second baseman Bobby Avila lined into a double play.
Piersall singled to lead off the third inning, but Williams grounded into a 3-6-3 double play. There followed three singles – by Kell, Goodman, and one by McDermott to center field, driving in Kell and giving Boston a 2-0 lead.
McDermott then retired the side in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, no one reaching base.
Garcia faced the minimum nine in the fourth, fifth, and sixth; though Goodman singled to lead off the sixth, but was erased on a double play. Ted Williams had batted in the fifth. He grounded out, short to first.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Indians scored. First baseman Bill Glynn walked. McDermott struck out left fielder Dale Mitchell, but Cleveland third baseman Al Rosen singled to left.4 Center fielder Larry Doby grounded out to second base, Glynn moving to third. Westlake walked, loading the bases. Strickland hit a slow-rolling single to third base, Glynn scoring, but Hegan flied out to center. The score now stood Boston 2, Cleveland 1.
Red Sox center fielder Tommy Umphlett struck out leading off the top of the seventh. The next two batters reached on singles to center field – shortstop Johnny Lipon and second baseman Billy Consolo. Lipon took third base on Consolo’s single and was off for home at the crack of the bat when Piersall hit the ball back to Garcia. The Indians pitcher threw the ball home to Hegan, who threw back to third baseman Rosen, who applied the tag on Lipon.
On a 1-and-1 count, Ted Williams followed with “a colossal three-run homer” that gave the Red Sox a 5-1 lead.5
The home run went into the second tier in right field. The Cleveland Plain Dealer had noted the day before that Williams’s first-inning home run off Bob Feller on August 30 was the first hit into the upper deck all year and with this home run he’d done it two days in a row. It was only a few rows short of the previous day’s homer. There were only 12,228 fans present and “only a teen-aged youngster was within sections of the ball and he didn’t even have to hurry to recover it as a souvenir.”6
Kell followed with a single, but Goodman flied out.
Hoot Evers replaced Williams in left field for the rest of the game.
The Indians got three singles off McDermott in the bottom of the seventh, the first by pinch-hitter Hank Majeski, batting for Garcia. Avila hit into a 6-4-3 double play to erase Majeski, so the next two singles didn’t amount to much when Rosen flied out to Evers in left for the third out.
Bill Wight was Cleveland’s new pitcher in the eighth. Sammy White singled with one out but then Umphlett hit into a double play.
Alternating singles and outs, the Indians had two baserunners in the bottom of the eighth. Al Smith pinch-hit for Wight and walked. The bases were loaded. Ellis Kinder relieved McDermott. Avila singled to Lipon at shortstop and two runs scored when Lipon threw the ball into the Cleveland dugout. It was 5-3, with runners on second and third, but Glynn flied out to center field.
The Red Sox scored once in the top of the ninth off Bob Hooper. Consolo walked and Piersall hit a one-out single that sent him to third base, whence he scored on a fly ball to left field by Evers.
In the bottom of the ninth, Kinder gave up a solo home run to Larry Doby, but that came after two groundouts and was followed by Westlake’s fly ball to left.
Tris Speaker, who had spent almost all of his Hall of Fame career with Boston and Cleveland, was at the game. He said of Williams, “He’s marvelous. I don’t know, but I think Mike was fooling him with a certain pitch, probably his fast ball, until that time. … But you can’t keep getting away with one pitch against Ted. Sooner or later, he’ll catch up with you.” He added that Williams, not long out of the Marines, “doesn’t look to be in too good shape, and that’s to be expected” but “his swing is as good as ever.”8
Williams was clearly not yet in condition and was unable to start the next day’s game. He said, “I’ll be available to pinch hit, but I just can’t start the game.”9 He had, however, at least one base hit in every one of the 11 games he had started. The streak ran four more games. He finished the season batting .407.
This article was fact-checked by Mark Richard and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 1, 1953: 21.
2 Boston Globe, September 1, 1953: 1.
3 San Diego Union, September 1, 1953: 18.
4 Rosen was the American League MVP in 1953, in large part thanks to leading the league with 43 homers and leading both leagues with 145 runs batted in.
5 Harry Jones, “Williams’ Homer Sinks Indians, 6-4,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 1, 1953: 21.
6 Henry McKenna, “Ted’s Three-Run Homer Wins for Sox,” Boston Herald, September 1, 1953: 15.
9 “Ted Out of Lineup – Is ‘Stiff and Aching,’” Boston Globe, September 1, 1953: 1.