70 Years Ago Today .406!


How about a baseball trivia question for you.  Who was John Glenn’s wingman during the Korean War?

What happens when the greatest hitter there ever was gave up 8 years – prime hitting years – for service to his country?

“…Williams served as a naval aviator (a U.S. Marine Corps pilot) during World War II and the Korean War. He had been classified 3-A by Selective Service prior to the war, a dependency deferment because he was his mother’s sole means of financial support. When his classification was changed to (1-A) following the American entry into World War II, Williams appealed to his local draft board. The draft board ruled that his draft status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother’s trust fund, he intended to enlist. Even so, criticism in the media, including withdrawal of an endorsement contract by Quaker Oats, resulted in his enlistment in the Marine Corps on May 22, 1942.

Williams could have received an easy assignment and played baseball for the Navy or the Marine Corps. Instead, he decided to defend his country and he joined the V-5 program to become a Naval aviator. Williams was first sent to the Navy’s Preliminary Ground School at Amherst College for six months of academic instruction in various subjects including math and navigation, where he achieved a 3.85 grade point average….Williams served as a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station Pensacola teaching young pilots to fly the complicated F4U Corsair fighter plane. Williams was in Pearl Harbor awaiting orders to join the Fleet in the Western Pacific when the War in the Pacific ended. He finished the war in Hawaii, and then he was released from active duty on January 12, 1946, but he did remain in the Marine Forces Reserves…”

On May 1, 1952, at the age of 34, Williams was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War. He had not flown any aircraft for about eight years but he turned down all offers to sit out the war in comfort as a member of a service baseball team. Nevertheless, Williams was somewhat resentful of being called up, which he admitted years later, particularly regarding the Navy’s odd policy of calling up Inactive Reservists rather than members of the Active Reserve.

After eight weeks of refresher flight training and qualification in the F9F Panther jet fighter at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Williams was assigned to VMF-311, Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), based at the K-3 airfield in Pohang, South Korea.

On February 16, 1953, Williams was part of a 35-plane air raid against a tank and infantry training school just south of Pyongyang, North Korea. During the mission a piece of flak knocked out his hydraulics and electrical systems, causing Williams to have to “limp” his plane back to K-13, a U.S. Air Force airfield close to the front lines. For his actions of this day he was awarded the Air Medal.

Williams stayed on K-13 for several days while his plane was being repaired. Because he was so popular, GIs and airmen from all around the base came to see him and his plane. After it was repaired, Williams flew his plane back to his Marine Corps airfield.

In Korea, Williams flew 39 combat missions before being being withdrawn from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia. This resulted in the discovery of an inner ear infection that disqualified him from flight status. During the Korean War, Williams also served in the same Marine Corps unit with John Glenn, and in the last half of his missions, Williams was flying as Glenn’s wingman.

While these absences in the Marine Corps, which took almost five years out of the heart of a great baseball career, significantly limited his career totals, he never publicly complained about the time devoted to service in the Marine Corps. His biographer Leigh Montville argued that Williams was not happy about being pressed into service in South Korea, but he did what he thought was his patriotic duty.

Williams had a strong respect for General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his “idol”. For Williams’ fortieth birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself with the inscription “To Ted Williams – not only America’s greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army.”…”


What happens when a man has the single best offensive season in history? (and doesn’t live in New York)

Nothing – he finishes second as MVP.  It seems appropriate that the day following the announcement that he came in second, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor!

The following year, his salary was $30,000.  Interestingly, if calculated using the relative share of the GDP today – that would amount to $2,690,000!  In the consumer price index, it would have $401,000 in spending power.

One of the most courageous moments in professional sports happened 70 years ago today.  All that season, the only thing anyone could talk about was Jiltin’ Joe’s  56 consecutive games.  The truly great accomplishment of that season has yet to be duplicated, hitting .406!

During the time frame of DiMaggio’s magnificent hitting streak, Williams had a higher batting average.  When the season went into that last day, if Williams sat out the game, he would have a safe .39955, rounded off to .400.

He went 6 for 8 that day!

Never mind he had 37 home runs and 120 RBIs to go with a .406 BA, with those 56 consecutive games, 125 RBIs, 30 HRs, and a .305 BA, DiMaggio became the MVP.  To be fair, neither feat has yet to be duplicated.

Ted Williams was never a man to compromise.  He was a man of honor, a throw-back to an age when men were men and lived and died by their word.  He refused to take allow the .39955 to be rounded up, to give him a scant .400.  It was all or nothing.

FYI – if the current sacrifice fly rules were in effect, he would have had .416.