Ted Williams (Trading Card DB)

May 21, 1951: Ted Williams lashes 3 hits to Fenway Park’s left field—to spite Ty Cobb?

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Ted Williams (Trading Card DB)It was still relatively early in the season and only 6½ games separated the American League-leading New York Yankees from the sixth-place Cleveland Indians. The 16-10 Tigers and 14-13 Red Sox were in third and fifth place. Managers Red Rolfe of the visitors and Steve O’Neill of the home team announced their starters for the Monday afternoon game at Fenway Park. The game was played before a sparse ladies day crowd of 5,934. Even with the ladies present, the total gathering came to 6,977 – the park was close to 80 percent empty.

Before the game, Rolfe had been asked about the slump Ted Williams was in. The Boston star had been struggling badly so far in 1951. Over the course of his first 27 games, he was batting just .226, though he did have seven home runs. Rolfe said, “Williams will get started, don’t worry. He’ll make somebody suffer.”1 A few days before, Tigers great Ty Cobb had said, “Williams has fine ability but he cannot be classed as a great hitter. No player can be called a truly great hitter unless he can hit to all fields.”2

Starting for Boston was Willard Nixon, in his second major-league season. He was 1-0, with a 2-0 two-hit shutout against the Browns in St. Louis on May 7, but he’d been hit hard his last start, on May 15, and had an ERA of 4.43 coming into the game. He struck out the first two Tigers he faced and got third baseman George Kell to fly out to Williams in left field.

Detroit’s Dizzy Trout had started his career the same year as Williams, 1939. He was 35 years old and already had 153 wins to his credit, including those in 1951 that were part of his 2-2 record before this game. Trout got infield groundouts from each of the first three batters he faced.

In the second inning, Nixon walked the leadoff batter, right fielder Vic Wertz. A single and a sacrifice got Wertz to third base, and he scored on a groundball to second base by catcher Joe Ginsberg.

Trout got three more groundouts in the bottom of the second, interrupted only by a single by first baseman Walt Dropo. The first of the three was a groundball Williams hit to shortstop Johnny Lipon, who was positioned in a shift on the first-base side of second base.3

Trout led off the third inning with a single to left field. He was sacrificed to second but a strikeout and a groundout ended the inning.

In the bottom of the third, the Red Sox exploded for seven runs. Catcher Les Moss drew a walk. Nixon hit a groundball, forcing Moss at second base. Center fielder Dom DiMaggio tripled to right field, scoring Nixon. Third baseman Johnny Pesky doubled to right, the ball kicking up a bit of the right-field foul-line chalk, and DiMaggio scored. Boston led, 2-1.

Red Sox right fielder Tom Wright hit the ball back to Trout, who threw to third base to get the lead runner, Pesky, trapped between second and third for the second out. But Ted Williams doubled high off the wall in deep left-center field, scoring Wright. Shortstop Lou Boudreau singled to right field, scoring Williams. The lead was 4-1. It seemed time for a pitching change. Hank Borowy replaced Trout.

Borowy walked Dropo. Second baseman Bobby Doerr doubled to left field, scoring Boudreau. Moss was walked intentionally. Nixon himself got in on the action, shooting a single into center field and collecting two runs batted in – Dropo and Doerr. DiMaggio grounded into a force play at second base, ending the inning with the score 7-1, Red Sox.

Left fielder Pat Mullin got one run back for the Tigers with a solo home run into the Tigers bullpen in the top of the fourth.

Marlin Stuart took over pitching to the Red Sox in the bottom of the fourth. He gave up only one base hit in three innings, a single to left field in the fourth by Williams “past George Kell, third baseman who was playing shortstop in Detroit’s over-shifted defense.”4

Nixon was touched for one more run in the top of the sixth. Kell led off with a single to left. Wertz doubled to center field. Mullin hit a fly ball to right field, and Kell tagged and scored, cutting Boston’s lead to 7-3. Stuart retired the Red Sox in order in the bottom of the inning.

The Tigers edged closer in the top of the seventh. With one out, pinch-hitter Don Kolloway doubled to right field. A strikeout followed. First baseman Dick Kryhoski homered into the net in left-center and it was a two-run game, 7-5.

Gene Bearden was Detroit’s new pitcher in the seventh. He walked leadoff batter Wright. Ted Williams followed with a home run to deep left-center field. That made it 9-5. Rolfe pulled Bearden and summoned Hal White. White faced Boudreau, Dropo, and Doerr, and none of them got the ball out of the infield.

In the top of the eighth, the Tigers continued to show life. Mel Parnell took over mound duties from Nixon. Wertz singled to right field. Steve Souchock pinch-hit for Pat Mullin. He walked on four pitches, Parnell perhaps remembering “a near record homer off [him] in Chicago in’49.”5

O’Neill made another move, bringing in veteran reliever Ellis Kinder. Center fielder Hoot Evers flied out to Doerr at second base for the first out. Ginsberg singled to right field, loading the bases. No doubt a radio broadcaster informed listeners that the tying run was at the plate in the person of Johnny Lipon. He walked on five pitches, forcing in Wertz and, of course, leaving the bases still loaded.

Another pinch-hitter Charlie Keller was introduced, to face new Red Sox reliever Harry Taylor. He singled to right, knocking in one more run to make it 9-7. Second baseman Jerry Priddy hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.

Virgil Trucks became the sixth Detroit pitcher of the day. With one out, Taylor struck out – but wound up on first base thanks to an error by Trucks. The ball was so wildly pitched that it bounced and went into the box seats.6

Pesky walked, but the Red Sox did not score. The game went into the ninth inning, with Boston holding on to their 9-7 lead. Taylor got Kryhoski to ground out, walked Kell, but then got Wertz to hit into a 4-6-3 double play that ended the game, 2 hours and 25 minutes after it had begun.

Doerr’s defense may have saved the day. Leo MacDonell of the Detroit Times said the game-ending double play was a “savage grounder out of Doerr’s reach. That is, it looked like it was on the way past Doerr. But, Bobby’s third hand came out of nowhere, and scooped up the ball in a sensational stop. [He] wheeled in almost the same motion [and]whipped to pellet to Lou Boudreau, another aged great, who forced Kell at second and then rifled to first where Wertz was doubled.”7

The Ted Williams home run in the seventh was the game-winner.8 His three hits bumped his average up from .226 to .247.

After the game, longtime Boston sportswriter Melville Webb (the “dean of Boston baseball writers”) recalled how manager Ed Barrow had tried to talk another left-handed Boston slugger into hitting to left field: “‘Oh, I can hit to left if I want to,’ growled [Babe] Ruth, ‘but I don’t want to. But I’ll show today I can.’ By Webbie’s memory, Ruth hit slashing doubles to left his first three times at bat. Convinced that he had shown Barrow, Ruth then hit a home run – to right.”9

For his part, Williams was said to have “decided to simply hit the ball and forget all about trying to pull everything for distance.”10



This article was fact-checked by Larry DeFillipo and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.



Photo credit: Ted Williams, Trading Card Database.



1 Harold Kaese, “Williams’ Big Day Makes Rolfe Prophet,” Boston Globe, May 22, 1951: 11.

2 Associated Press, “Williams Not a Great Hitter in the Opinion of Ty Cobb,” Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 1951: 9.

3 John Drohan, “Relief from Sinus Puts Ted Back on Beam,” Boston Traveler, May 22, 1951: 56.

4 Kaese.

5 Jack Barry, “Williams Gets Three Hits to Left as Sox Beat Tigers 9-7,” Boston Globe, May 22, 1951: 10.

6 See Vic Johnson’s sports page cartoon, “Just a Bit Left of Center,” Boston Herald, May 22, 1951: 15.

7 Leo MacDonell, “Tigers Find Bobby Doerr at 36 Still Sparkles as Plater,” Detroit Times, May 22, 1951: 25.

8 A “game-winning home run” is defined here as a home run that provides a game’s final margin of victory, giving the winning team at least one more run than the opposing team scored. For example, if a two-run homer increased a team’s lead from 2-1 to 4-1, and it went on to win 4-3, it qualifies as a game-winning home run. (This is different from the definition of “game-winning RBI” in baseball’s official statistics from 1980 through 1988, which counted as “game-winning” the RBI that provided a winning team the lead that it never relinquished.)

9 Kaese. Larry DeFillipo notes, “The Barrow-Ruth story appears to be apocryphal. According to Stahead.com, Ruth never hit three doubles and a home run in the same game while playing for Boston. He did, on July 11, 1918, slap three doubles to left field in four at-bats off ill-fated ChiSox hurler Eddie Cicotte.” According to Edward F. Martin, Ruth “propelled the agate to the extreme left section thrice, each of the wallops good for two bags.” “Ruth Hammers Out Three Two Baggers,” Boston Globe, July 12, 1918: 5.

10 “Ted Forgets About Pulling Baseball and Just Goes After Hits,” Boston Herald, May 22, 1951: 15.

Additional Stats

Boston Red Sox 9
Detroit Tigers 7

Fenway Park
Boston, MA


Box Score + PBP:

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1950s ·