Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Yankee Killer

First of all, Welcome to Late Innings! We hope you’ll enjoy your visit here and want to return several times every week.

Now that the 2011 season is getting close, there’s going to be lots of action, great information and we hope a lot of banter between our bloggers and all of our readers. If you have any suggestions for topics, we’re all ears. If you have any likes or dislikes, please let us know. We want this to be as much your blog as ours! —Rick

And now...batting lead-off for Late Innings...the third baseman...Will Braund...
(for Will, you have to imagine this announcement being made in the late Bob Sheppard's voice and with the echo of old Yankee Stadium behind it).

Though I will sometimes discuss current events most of my blogs will be about great teams and individuals from the past.

I have been a Yankee fan since the late 50s but I am going to cite some amazing facts about an enemy of the Yankees in my first blog. 

Here are some fascinating facts about Teddy Ballgame...

• Ted Williams was a six-time league leader in batting, and a two-time TripleCrown winner.
• He finished with a .344 average.
• He hit .388 at the age of 39 and won a batting title at 40.
• And ... he may have had the best eyesight in baseball history.

Williams always denied the rumors that he could count the seams on an incoming fastball and watch it hit the bat but he said  “in the last 20 feet [he] could see which way it was spinning.”

When he entered the Marines as a pilot in World War 2, they tested his vision and announced that he had 20/10 eyesight — meaning if something was 20 feet away, he could see it as well as a “normal” person could from 10 feet. The ophthalmologist performing Williams' entry examination said his vision was on the order of a “1-in-100,000 occurrence.”

Williams benefited from his reputation. Everyone knew that he refused to swing at pitches out of the strike zone and umpires were reluctant to call a borderline pitch on him as they assumed that if it had been over the plate he'd have swung.
Vision wasn't Williams' only extraordinary sense. One time, he felt the batter's box in Kansas City was slanted slightly from front to back.

“I felt as if I were hitting uphill,” he wrote in The Science of Hitting (1970, Simon & Schuster). “I told the groundskeeper about it, and the next time we came into Kansas City, it was level. I hit two home runs that day, and when the Kansas City manager learned what had happened, he almost fired the groundskeeper.”

Another time, shortly after coming back from Korea in 1953, Williams was taking batting practice at Fenway Park. He said he thought the plate was slightly off line from the mound. The Red Sox wanted to humor him so they brought in a transit to measure. Sure enough, it was off a fraction. 

Baseball players speak of the Louisville Slugger bat the same way violinists dote over the Stradivarius or pianists praise the Steinway. Of course ballplayers tend to use more colorful language than their concert colleagues. In David Cataneo's book I Remember Ted Williams, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Charlie Wagner recalls, “One day I came into the hotel room — we were in St. Louis — and Ted had just gotten some new bats. The minute I got in, he said, ‘Feel these goddamn bats.' You know, he swore a lot.
“He said, ‘Damn, these are the best bats. Look at them. Feel that son of a bitch.’ I looked at the bats and I sat on the bed and watched him. He was shaving some of the handles on them. The wood shavings were going all over my bed. That didn't bother him.

“Then he looked in the mirror. ... He's looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Jesus Christ... Jesus Christ. Boy, oh boy, give me that bat. Boy.’ Then he swung the bat at the knob of my bedpost and knocked my bed down. He knocked the post off my bed. He said, ‘Hey, call ’em up and have them send up another bed.’ It was that simple.”

Williams was very fussy about his Louisville Slugger bats. After receiving a new shipment from Hillerich & Bradsby he once complained about the way the handle tapered.  He sent them back, saying their grips didn't feel right. They weren't. Hillerich & Bradsby staff members measured the grip with calibrators against the models he had been using. They discovered that Williams' new bats were 5/1000ths of an inch off.

He also could tell differences in the weight of his bats. J.A. Hillerich Jr., a late president of the company, once tested Williams. He gave him six bats, five weighing exactly the same, the sixth weighing one-half ounce more. Williams easily picked out the one with the minute difference.

“Ted used different models for different pitchers and different times of the year,” says chairman of the board John A. ‘Jack’ Hillerich III. “The difference between the models was almost nothing. It was like a 64th of an inch difference in the knob.”

Keep swinging for the fences,
Will ‘The Quill’ Braund


Rick Blechta said...

I don't remember where I read it, but they once got Ted to put a whack of pine tar on a bat at spring training when he was managing. Then they pitched to him at full speed (not the lob balls you get at BP) and he announced where the bat had struck the ball. "Between the seams!"

Someone ran to the outfield, picked up the ball and called back, "Yup. It's right between the seams!" Ted was able to do that consistently over several pitches.

Now THAT'S amazing eyesight.

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

I remember this too. I think he was somewhere is his 50's when he did this. Your right that is truly amazing.

Rick Blechta said...

You know, Will, I can't believe that you FAILED to mention that Ted Williams was the last man to hit .400 for a season.

To my mind that's pretty spotty research. We expect better.


Will Braund said...

Rick, I am going to avoid stating the obvious. Everyone interested enough to read a blog about baseball would already know that Ted Williams was the last player to hit .400, though three guys have come sorta close since, and that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, and that Cal Ripken broke the Iron Horse's consecutive games streak, etcetera.

Rick Blechta said...

And you're a big poo-head!