Williams' boldness in final weekend of '41 paid off

Williams' boldness in final weekend of '41 paid off

Seventy-five years ago, Ted Williams entered the final weekend of the 1941 regular season hitting .401.

It had already been a fine season for The Splendid Splinter. Beyond his average, he led the Majors in home runs with 37, as well as on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs scored.

• Look back at the record-breaking summer of 1941

The Red Sox wanted Williams to sit out their last three games, ensuring he would finish the season above .400. But Williams, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966, refused.

"If I'm going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line," Williams famously said at the time.

Sure, if he had sat 75 years ago, Williams would still be the last man to hit .400 or better over a full season. But his performance on the season's final weekend showed once again just how great Williams was.

Williams struggled heading into that weekend, a three-game series with the A's at Shibe Park that concluded with a doubleheader. He hit .268 in the 13 games leading up to the season's final day -- including going 1-for-4 in the series opener -- dropping his average from .413 to .3995.

Williams hadn't had a multihit game in a week, but he opened the second inning of the doubleheader's first game with a single off Philadelphia's Dick Fowler. Williams homered off the right-hander in his second at-bat before knocking two singles off reliever Porter Vaughan.

The box score for Game 1 of Boston's season-ending doubleheader in 1941.MLB.com

Williams reached on an error in his final at-bat, bringing his season average to .404. He would be guaranteed to finish the season with a .400 average if he sat out the second game. But, of course, he didn't.

Williams went 2-for-3 in the nightcap -- including hitting a double that broke a loudspeaker -- before ending his season with a flyout and a .406 average. The doubleheader marked his 49th and 50th multi-hit performances.

Seventy-five years later, Williams -- through skill and determination -- remains the last man to finish a season above the prestigious .400 mark. The closest any batter has come to replicating Williams' feat in a full season was when George Brett hit .390 for the Royals in 1980. Tony Gwynn managed to eclipse Brett's effort in 1994, batting .394, but the season ended early on August 11 due to the players' strike.

The box score for the final game of 1941 for Ted Williams and the Red Sox.MLB.com

"He is one of a kind," Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn told ESPN in 2011. "His memory was unbelievable. He could dig in to his memory bank, and pull out all sorts of stuff. All good hitters have that, but he had it to a higher level than anyone I've ever met. It was uncanny the stuff he could pull out. He knew the pitcher, the weather, the way the ball was carrying that day, the thickness of the grass."

Williams led the Majors in most major offensive categories that season. He ranked first in batting average, on-base percentage (.553), slugging (.735), runs (135), total bases (348), home runs (37) and walks (147). He finished five RBIs shy of Joe DiMaggo's MLB-leading 125, which would have won him the Triple Crown, something he accomplished twice in 1942 and 1947.

His .553 on-base percentage was also a Major League record that stood for 61 years until Barry Bonds topped it in 2002 (.582) and 2004 (.609).

"It was something that required a kind of nonstop consistency," Williams said in 1991. "I never thought of it as going 2-for-5 every day, but that's what it adds up to. I had to maintain my focus throughout. Although I never imagined that all these years later, no one else would do it again.

"If I had known hitting .400 was going to be such a big deal, I would have done it again."

Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.