In baseball and beyond, Williams was a true American hero
By Gordon Edes, Globe Staff, 07/06/02
Williams returned to the Red Sox, and on April 16, 1946, at Griffith Stadium in Washington and with President Truman in attendance, he hit a home run 12 rows into the center field bleachers, an estimated 460 feet. The Kid was back.
Williams would hit two other memorable home runs that season, both at Fenway Park. One came on June 9, when Joseph A. Boucher, a construction engineer from Albany, N.Y., was struck on the top of his straw hat by a ball hit by Williams deep into the right field bleachers. Boucher was sitting an estimated 502 feet away, in Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21 (though at the time the bleachers had bench seating, not individual chairs). The spot is now commemorated by a chair painted red in a sea of green seats.
Then, on July 9, 1946, in the first All-Star Game played at Fenway Park, Williams had four hits in the American League’s 12-0 win, including a long home run off Rip Sewell’s high-arcing lob known as the "eephus’’ pitch.
This also would be the season in which Williams was first confronted with a defensive alignment designed especially for him: the Boudreau shift, devised by Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau, in which two outfielders played right field, the second baseman took a position 40 feet onto the outfield grass, the shortstop moved to the right field side of second base, and the third baseman played close to the second base bag.
Williams, a pull hitter whose power was to right field, could have elected to hit the opposite way, but in most instances -- to some criticism -- he challenged the overshifted defense. One time he didn’t was on Sept. 13, when he hit an inside-the-park home run to left-center for the only run in a 1-0 win over the Indians that clinched the 1946 AL pennant for the Red Sox -- the only one they would win in Williams’s tenure.
Just before the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Williams was struck in the right arm by a pitch from Mickey Haefner in an exhibition game, badly bruising the elbow. In the Series, Williams would have just five hits, all singles, and drive in just one run in 25 at-bats, a .200 average that led his critics to question his ability to hit in clutch situations.
After the seventh game in St. Louis, Williams went to the train, closed his compartment, put his head down, and cried. "As matters stand, Ted Williams is an enormous bust,’’ Harold Kaese wrote in the Globe.
Williams was named MVP for the 1946 season, in which he hit .342, scored a league-leading 142 runs, knocked in 123 runs, and hit 38 home runs. In 1947, Williams would win his second triple crown, batting .343 with 32 home runs and 114 RBIs, but lost the MVP award to DiMaggio by 1 point. For years, Williams blamed a Boston writer, Mel Webb, for leaving him off his ballot, but subsequent research has shown that Webb did not have a vote that year; the three Boston writers who did all chose Williams first, and DiMaggio was left off three ballots entirely and still won.