Of all the moments in Ted Williams’s inimitable career, one consistently stood out in his mind. It wasn’t hitting a home run in his final at-bat, nor was it the bold decision to play out a double-header on the final day of the 1941 season as his average teetered on the precipice of .400 (and history).
It was a moment of pure, unbridled joy that arrived in baseball’s Midsummer Classic, the All-Star Game. For Williams, who was cruelly denied more than a single opportunity to play in the World Series, his consistent appearances in the All-Star Game were more than a silver lining.
Like many players in his era, Williams’s performance on the field in All-Star Games helped solidify opinions about his ability to compete against the best in a time when the two leagues barely faced each other. And beyond his mere stats, Williams continued to stand out even among baseball’s All-Star constellation.
Here’s a look at a few times “The Kid” helped define the All-Star Game:
The American League batting order in the 1941 All-Star Game was enough to set the stage: Williams, hitting .405 at the break, was batting cleanup. Occupying the third spot was his Yankee counterpart, Joe DiMaggio, who was immersed in an ongoing – and nationally captivating – hitting streak (then at 48 straight games).
Williams broke the scoreless deadlock in the fourth inning with a double, but his best work was yet to come. Heading into the ninth inning, the American League trailed 5-2. After DiMaggio sprinted to beat out the throw to first on a possible double play, the path to the batter’s box was open for Williams to possibly be a hero.
With two outs, the 22-year-old walloped a walk-off home run.
“It was the biggest thrill I ever got in baseball. It happened just at the right time in a young player’s career,” Williams would say later.
His jubilant clap as he reached first base, followed by the uncharacteristically excited gallop around the bases became an instantly iconic All-Star moment.
With Fenway Park hosting the All-Star Game for the first time in its already long history, Williams, together with his fellow American Leaguers, ensured that it was emphatically won for the home crowd.
In one of the most impressive displays of hitting ever seen from a single player in an All-Star Game, the Red Sox outfielder went 4-4 with two home runs and five RBIs.
The masterful batting performance was highlighted by a genuinely bizarre moment. In the eighth inning, Williams faced National League pitcher “Rip” Sewell. Having promised to do so, Sewell threw his famous “blooper pitcher” (more commonly known as an “Eephus pitch”).
After watching one “blooper” glide by, Williams worked out the timing of it and smashed the second offering into the Fenway bullpen. The American League won, 12-0.
In the years after returning from World War II service, Williams averaged .349 and 34 home runs a season. And he seemed to be continuing that pace in 1950, smashing 25 home runs in the first half of 1950.
But in the 1950 All-Star Game, Williams shattered his elbow while making a running catch into the wall to deny Ralph Kiner of a hit. Despite the injury, Williams stayed in the game, even singling off Don Newcombe to give the American League a brief lead.
Yet the pain eventually proved too much. And while his perseverance won him fans, it kept him out of much of the second half of the season. The Red Sox, who won 94 games that year, still finished four back of the Yankees.
A second stint in the military during the Korean War kept Williams out of a majority of the 1952-53 seasons. By the summer of 1953, Williams was discharged from the service, but not yet back with the Red Sox.
Though he wasn’t playing, Williams traveled to Cincinnati for the ’53 All-Star Game, surprising both the crowd and the players.
Williams had still been selected for the team, but didn’t swing the bat. Instead, he threw out the first pitch and loomed over the proceedings from a front row seat.
More than half a century after welcoming the All-Star Game to Fenway Park with one of its best performances, Williams was on hand for the Midsummer Classic’s return to Boston.
It would be one of his last major public appearances, but was without question one of his most beloved. Entering on a golf cart from centerfield, Williams answered the booming (and elaborate) announcer’s introduction by triumphantly tipping his cap to the Fenway faithful, a gesture he had long resisted as a player.
Arriving at the pitcher’s mound, Williams was flanked by baseball legends past and present, but felt right at home. He held court in the center of the giddy group of professionals gathered around him before rising to throw out the first pitch. Even the other Red Sox star of the night, Pedro Martinez, couldn’t believe the ovation given to Williams.
“I thought the stadium was going down,’’ Martinez said. “I don’t think that there will be any other man that’s going to replace that one.’’