After Ted Williams belted three home runs in a game for the first time, in the opening game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians on July 14, 1946, Tribe manager Lou Boudreau instituted his famous infield shift in the second game to defend against the left-handed hitter. The second and last time the Splendid Splinter belted three, he was 38 years old and the feat evoked a barrage of praise. He’s “turned into an automatic cannon,” gushed sportswriter Arthur Siegel in the Boston Traveler,1 while Hub scribe Hy Hurwitz of the Globe described the accomplishment as “king-sized slugging.”2 Red Sox beat reporter Joe Cashman of the Boston Record opined that Teddy Ballgame’s torrid start to his 16th big-league season was “the most famous slugging surge in baseball history.”3 All-Star left fielder Minnie Minoso, whose Chicago White Sox squad Williams victimized added, “He makes ’em all look easy. Like he was bunting the ball.”4
To say Williams was hot was an understatement. The day before his longball-trifecta, he reached base all five times (including three walks) he came to the plate, capped off by a ninth-inning two-run home run, an AL-best sixth round-tripper of the early season, to provide the BoSox with the deciding runs in their 4-3 victory over the White Sox to open a three-game set in the Windy City. Coming off a typical Williams-esque season, a .345 batting average, major-league-best .479 on-base percentage, and .605 slugging percentage, Williams upped those figures to a big-league leading .453/.586/.868 through the first 19 games of the ’57 season while pundits wondered how long he could keep up the pace.
ChiSox skipper Al Lopez, whose club (11-6) had lost four straight games to drop out of first place and trailed the New York Yankees by a half-game, was in an ornery mood even before Wednesday’s matinee with the Red Sox commenced. He called on Bob Keegan, a 36-year-old, injury-prone right-hander who had been actively shopped in the offseason, to stop the slide. An All-Star in 1954, Keegan (30-26 career slate) began the ’57 campaign banished to the bullpen and had pitched sparingly, yielding five runs in 6⅔ innings. Pinky Higgins, manager of the third-place Red Sox (11-8), sent 27-year-old right-hander Frank Sullivan to the mound. The two-time All-Star, who had tied for the AL lead with 18 wins two years earlier, was 1-2 (2.61) and 48-33 in his career.
The Base Ball Palace of the World, located at 35th and Shields on Chicago’s South Side, drew a sparse crowd of 4,529 spectators despite a gusty but beautiful late-spring day with temperatures hovering around 70. When Williams trotted to the plate with two outs, White Sox infielders initiated the shift. Second baseman Nellie Fox was “stationed in short right field,” noted sportswriter Arthur Sampson in the Boston Herald, and shortstop Luis Aparicio settled where Fox normally played, between first and second.5 The strategy didn’t matter as Williams sent Keegan’s slider into the lower deck in right-center. With that blast, Williams surpassed the total home runs he had whacked the entire 1956 season in Comiskey Park, netting just one in 55 at-bats, though he did manage a .345 batting average.
In a scene of déjà vu, Williams came to bat in the third with two out and none on. And again, he parked a Keegan offering in the lower deck, this time in left-center, for a 2-0 Red Sox lead. Al Lopez, who had played with and against some of baseball’s best sluggers in his 19-year career, 18 of those spent in the NL, paid the Splinter his due, but also added, “He had a gale blowing for him this afternoon. The one he hit to left center [in the third] … would have been caught if there hadn’t been any wind.”6
That pair of tallies proved all Sullivan needed. After yielding a leadoff single in the first to speedy Luis Aparicio, en route to leading the AL in stolen bases for the second of nine straight seasons to start his career, Sullivan retired the next 11 batters until Larry Doby doubled with two outs in the fourth. He then set down 11 more batters until Jim Landis’s double with one out in the eighth snapped the streak.
Williams led off the sixth with a chance to hit his third consecutive home run of the game and fourth in two games, but flied out to left. Afterward he seemed more upset about that out than his trio of clouts. He told reporters that the first of his three rules to good hitting was “get a good ball to hit,” and then offered a self-critique. “I went for a bad ball with a 3-and-1 count on me and I fouled it off. I could have had a walk, but I wanted to hit it. Then I swung at another bad ball and I popped it up.”7 Imagine Teddy Ballgame after going hitless in a game! Also in the sixth, Jackie Jensen and Frank Malzone singled with two outs to extend their hitting streaks to 10 games each.
Boston still held a precarious 2-0 lead when Williams came to bat in the eighth with Billy Klaus on first via a single and no outs. Williams swung at Keegan’s first pitch and sent the ball “20 rows deep into the upper stands in right center,” reported Sampson about the towering blast.8 Mickey Vernon followed with his second hit of the game, a single, to send Keegan to the showers. Vernon went to third on Malzone’s single off reliever Bill Fischer, who escaped the jam unscored upon.
Ordinarily Gene Stephens would have replaced Williams for defensive purposes in the bottom of eighth, noted Boston sportswriters, but with Teddy Ballgame due to bat fourth in the ninth, there was a chance that he could become just the ninth player to hit four home runs in a game. Those chances rose when Sullivan reached on third baseman Fred Hatfield’s second error of the game, and moved up a station on Jimmy Piersall’s sacrifice. “I ordered the bunt,” said Higgins, wanting to avoid a double play, “because I wanted to make sure Ted would get to hit again.”9 After Klaus flied out, Williams strode to the plate, but Lopez was having none of it and called for an intentional walk, much to the chagrin of the few spectators still in Comiskey Park. “I don’t care if it’s Williams or Mantle or anybody else,” said Lopez. “We’re still in the ballgame. We’re out to win. To hell with four home runs in a ballgame.”10 Williams departed for pinch-runner Stephens and the Red Sox failed to score.
The White Sox finally got on the board in the ninth when Minoso doubled to drive in Fox, who had walked. Sullivan finished with a four-hitter with five punchouts, completing the game in 1 hour and 59 minutes. Still seething, Lopez order his men to stay in uniform and conducted batting practice.
Williams became the first Red Sox player to hit three home runs in a game twice. Besides Williams, Jim Tabor (1939), Bobby Doerr (1950), Clyde Vollmer (1951), and Norm Zauchin (1955) had achieved the feat once before.
Williams took an analytical approach after the game. “Keegan had real good stuff, but he made a couple of mistakes,” Ted opined. “He served me two home runs that he did not mean to let go.”11 [Keegan had his moment in the sun later that season, tossing a no-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader on August 20 against the Washington Senators.] Williams harbored no ill will against Lopez for ordering the intentional walk in the ninth, adding that the White Sox weren’t out of the game. Williams freely admitted, “I had some help with the wind” on his first two clouts; however, he noted that successful hitters make adjustments.12 “The score, type of pitching you are facing, the wind, and other factors govern what a batter should do at the plate,” said Williams, holding court in the Red Sox clubhouse. “Many people don’t think I ever consider such things, but I do. That’s why it isn’t a good idea to set homer goal or a batting-average goal.”13
Celebrating his 39th birthday during the season, Teddy Ballgame eventually slowed his astronomical pace, but not by much. In what is surely one of the most impressive seasons in baseball history, Williams batted .388 to capture his fifth AL batting crown, and led the majors with a .526 on-base percentage and .731 slugging percentage, as the Red Sox finished in third place.14
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com, and SABR.org.
1 Arthur Siegel, “Ted Could Stay Hot Long Time,” Boston Traveler, May 9, 1957: 33.
2 Hy Hurwitz, “Williams Hits 3 Homers as Sox Defeat Chicago, 4-1,” Boston Globe, May 9, 1957: 1.
3 Joe Cashman, “Ted Slams 3 Homers, Beats ChiSox, 4-1,” Boston Record, May 9, 1957: 28.
4 Hy Hurwitz, “‘I Broke My Own Rule,’ Why Ted Williams ‘Failed’ to Have Perfect Day,” Boston Globe, May 8, 1957: 16
5 Arthur Sampson, “Williams Raps in All Runs, Sox Win, 4-1. Ted Crushes Three Homers,” Boston Herald, May 9, 1937: 35.
6 Hurwitz, “‘I Broke My Own Rule,’ Why Ted Williams ‘Failed’ to Have Perfect Day.”
8 Sampson, “Williams Raps in All Runs, Sox Win, 4-1. Ted Crushes Three Homers.”
10 Mike Gillooly, “Ted’s Dizzy Pace Stuns Baseball,” Boston American, May 9, 1957: 50.
11 Bob Glass, “Keegan Errs on Homers,” Boston Record, May 9, 1957: 28.
12 Hurwitz, “‘I Broke My Own Rule,’ Why Ted Williams ‘Failed’ to Have Perfect Day.”
13 Arthur Sampson, “Ted Hopes for Health, Hits,” Boston Herald, May 9, 1957: 1.
14 In 1957 Williams led the AL in on-base-percentage for the 11th of 12 times, and in slugging percentage for the ninth and last time.