July 21, 1946: Ted Williams hits for the cycle in MVP season
On a pleasant summer Sunday at Fenway Park, before a packed crowd of 32,358, Ted Williams “enjoyed one of his more spectacular days, contributed seven hits, scored two runs, batted in three and generally demoralized the Brownie pitching.”1 The first-place Red Sox swept a doubleheader from the sixth-place Browns, and Williams was the main reason why. Boston officials said that “they could have easily sold another 10,000 reserved seats if they had the room.”2
After the Red Sox won the first game, 5-0 behind the five-hit pitching of Dave “Boo” Ferriss, Boston’s Joe Dobson opposed St. Louis’s Cliff Fannin on the mound in the second contest. Dobson was 9-3 coming into the game. Like many players in 1946, Dobson was back from military duty in World War II. (He was the 17th Red Sox player to join the armed forces in the war.3) Fannin was 22 years old and basically a rookie. He had pitched 10⅓ relief innings in five games in 1945 and became a starter in 1946.
The first nine batters in the game (six Browns and three Red Sox) went down in order. Then Williams led off the bottom of the second. One account noted that he “smashed a one-and-one pitch well into the right-field stands, a clout of about 400 feet, for his twenty-seventh four-base blow.”4 Another account stated that the ball traveled “some eight or nine rows into the right-field stands, around the bend a trifle, and more notable than usual because the wind was a bit hostile.”5
Fannin and Dobson had a close duel going through four innings, with the teams trading runs back and forth. In the top of the third, the Browns’ Frank Mancuso singled and moved to third when Mark Christman doubled. After Dobson struck out Fannin, Chuck Stevens hit a grounder to first base. Rudy York tossed the ball to Dobson covering first for the second out, but Mancuso scored. Dom DiMaggio homered with two outs in the Boston third. According to the Boston Globe, it was “the Little Professor’s fourth fourmaster over the horns.”6 The next batter, Williams, tripled. His “sinking line drive bounced off the bullpen wall in right-centerfield and caromed off [c]enterfielder Wally Judnich’s thigh.”7 Fannin stranded Williams by getting Bobby Doerr to ground out. The Browns tied the game in the fourth on Vern Stephens’s single, a walk, and an RBI single by Mancuso.
Despite the two home runs, Fannin kept the Browns in the game for the first four innings. However, with the score still tied at 2-2, he walked his counterpart Dobson to start the bottom of the fifth. Then the Red Sox batters seemed to take batting practice, getting four straight singles. Suddenly, Boston had a three-run lead. The fourth hit was by Williams, who “completed the decimation of Fannin”8 and forced Browns manager Luke Sewell to pull Fannin, as “Thumping Theodore’s single … sent Cliff Fannin to an early shower.”9 Another writer commented, “When that Bum Williams can get a hit it’s time to change pitchers.”10 Nels Potter came in to pitch. The first batter he faced, Doerr, lifted a fly ball to center field and DiMaggio trotted home with Boston’s fourth run of the inning, increasing the lead to 6-2.
In the seventh, Judnich homered to lead off for the Browns. With two outs, Johnny Lucadello pinch-hit for Potter and drew a walk. Dobson balked Lucadello to second, by making a motion to first, even though York was not covering the bag. This proved to be crucial as Chuck Stevens then poked a single, driving in Lucadello. That was the last run for St. Louis.
Sam Zoldak replaced Potter on the mound. Williams, leading off the bottom of the seventh, greeted Zoldak with a double, sending his offering “down the first base line into right.”11 Doerr sacrificed Williams to third. Zoldak had an unusual windup; he “would bring his arms back and forward over his head three times before turning the ball loose.”12 Williams provided the fans some comedy relief, as he “took the cue and each time would race half-way home wearing a grin as broad as some of his hitting.”13 After a few of these antics, York singled and Williams scored his second run of the game. Boston now led, 7-4.
With the cycle complete, Williams still had one more at-bat, in the bottom of the eighth. After thumping the Browns’ pitching all afternoon, he stood in the batter’s box with two outs and watched three straight strikes go by, never taking the bat off his shoulder.
St. Louis got a double from Bob Dillinger off reliever Bob Klinger in the ninth, but otherwise went down peacefully. The Browns were struggling. On this road trip, which started on July 1 in Cleveland, Sewell’s squad was 7-14 after this doubleheader sweep. In recent stops to New York and Boston, the Browns were 1-5, and now they were returning to St. Louis—to host the Yankees and Red Sox.14
Boston, on the other hand, had all but locked up the American League pennant. These victories bumped their lead over the second-place New York Yankees to 11½ games. The Sox finished their homestand with a record of 11-2, improving home stats to this point in the season to an amazing 44-8. They cruised in August and September as well, going 34-21 down the stretch. They finished the 1946 campaign at 104-50, but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in the World Series.
In his first season since returning from the war, Ted Williams was the best hitter in baseball. Jack Hand, an Associated Press sportswriter, summed up his domination: “Thumping Teddy Williams is baseball’s man of the hour – almost certain to be named most valuable player in the American League. The sharp-eyed slugger with the limber wrists is tops in batting at .365 and ranks first in runs scored, runs batted in, total hits, and home runs. It’s a good thing he never took up base stealing.”15 On this particular Sunday, he had seven hits in a row. His batting average of .365 gave him the league lead over Mickey Vernon “who only had a 4-for-8 day.”16 The Splendid Splinter had hit for the cycle, accomplishing the rare event at the age of 27. Williams finished the 1946 campaign with a .342 average. He led the league in runs scored (142), bases on balls (156), on-base percentage (.497), slugging percentage (.667), and total bases (343). In the voting for the Most Valuable Player Award, he beat out Detroit’s Hal Newhouser as well as his teammates Doerr and Johnny Pesky, who finished third and fourth, respectively.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. The author thanks Bill Nowlin for advice and assistance with some sources.
1 Dent McSkimming, “Browns Win 7, Lose 14 Away From Home,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 22, 1946:16.
3 Bill Nowlin, “Joe Dobson,” sabr.org/bioproj/person/77e5cfd4.
4 Associated Press, “Red Sox Turn Back Browns by 5-0, 7-4,” New York Times, July 22, 1946: 31.
5 Bill Nowlin, 521: The Story of Ted Williams’ Home Runs(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2013).
6 Gerry Moore, “Ferriss Hurls Shutout, Ted Hits for Cycle as Red Sox Cop Two,” Boston Globe, July 22, 1946: 6.
7 Associated Press, New York Times.
9 Associated Press, New York Times.
14 Six days after this doubleheader, on July 27, 1946, Boston’s Rudy York earned a spot in history when he became only the third major-leaguer to hit two grand slams in a game. Against the St. Louis Browns at Sportsman’s Park, he drove in 10 runs, two shy of the major-league record. As of the end of the 2016 season, only 12 others had accomplished the feat.
15 Jack Hand, Associated Press, “Williams to Get Award if Red Sox Win,” Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), July 22, 1946: 15.