Boston Red Sox Player Ted Williams Enlists in the Naval Reserve

 
« Previous story
Next story »
 
Boston Red Sox Player Ted Williams Enlists in the Naval Reserve

Ted Williams's 1st Home Run, April 23, 1939
[Image courtesy of http://bill37mccurdy.wordpress.com]
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today in Military History: May 22, 1942

Occasionally, my little history stories focus on war-related items. Today is one of those days, as I give you the story on one of major league baseball's all-time greatest players and how he ended up in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Second World War.

Background

Born in San Diego, CA in 1918, Ted Williams learned to play baseball with the help of his uncle Saul Venzor, a former semi-pro ball player. He played three years of minor league ball and was placed on the roster of the Boston Red Sox for the 1939 season, assigned to right field. Williams ended the season with a .327 batting average, 31 home runs, and 145 RBIs. Although baseball had no rookie of the year award at that time, the legendary Babe Ruth called Ted the Rookie of the year; Williams later said that "was good enough for me."

In 1940, Ted's salary was nearly tripled from $4500/year to $12,000/year. He was again a productive member of the Red Sox, hitting .344 but his home run and RBI production suffered, sliding to 23 and 113, respectively. However, he complained that his salary was "peanuts" and that he hated Boston.

The year 1941 became a legendary year for Ted Williams. By the end of the season, Williams hit .406 (a record that stands to this day), with 37 home runs and 127 RBIs. In July, Ted also hit the game-winning home run for the American League in the All-Star Game, and finished second (to Joe DiMaggio) in the Most Valuable Player award voting.

For his first three years in major league baseball, Ted Williams's average statistics were a .359 batting average, 30 home runs, and 128 RBIs per season.

Second World War

At the beginning of 1942, Ted was initially rated 1A for the draft. He appealed and was re-rated 3A (as the sole supporter of his mother). He was criticized by the fans and the press for this, which eventually wore him down a bit. Rather than waiting for the draft, on May 22, 1942 Ted Williams enlisted in the Naval Reserves. [The day before, Williams hit his 100th career home run.] He played the entire season for Boston, hitting .356, with 36 home runs and 137 RBIs, winning the mythical "Triple Crown" of baseball (leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs).

Ted Williams enlisting in Naval Reserve, May 22, 1942 [Image courtesy of http://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/williams_ted.htm]
Ted Williams enlisting in Naval Reserve, May 22, 1942
[Image courtesy of http://www.baseballinwartime.com/player_biographies/williams_ted.htm]

Williams did not opt for an easy assignment playing baseball for the Navy, but rather 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 was talented as a pilot, and so enjoyed it that he had to be ordered by the Navy to leave training to personally accept his American League 1942 Triple Crown award. One of Williams's Red Sox teammates, who went into the same aviation training program, said this about Williams: "He mastered intricate problems in fifteen minutes which took the average cadet an hour, and half of the other cadets there were college grads…From what they said, his reflexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine."

Chance Vought F4U Corsair aircraft [Image courtesy of http://www.warbirdalley.com]
Chance Vought F4U Corsair aircraft
[Image courtesy of http://www.warbirdalley.com]

Williams completed pre-flight training in Athens, GA, his primary training at NAS Bunker Hill (now Grissom Air Reserve Base), near Kokomo, IN, and his advanced flight training at NAS Pensacola, FL. He received his gold Naval Aviator wings and his commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps on May 2, 1944.

Williams served as a flight instructor at the NAS Pensacola teaching young pilots to fly the complicated F4U Corsair fighter plane. Williams was in Pearl Harbor awaiting orders to join the Fleet 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 Corps Reserve.

During the course of his naval aviation training, Williams played on several baseball teams organized at the various bases, most notably the Chapel Hill (NC) Cloudbusters.

Chapel Hill (NC) Cloudbusters team, 1942 (Williams is in the back row, first on the left [Image courtesy of http://www.baseballinwartime.com]
Chapel Hill (NC) Cloudbusters team, 1942 (Williams is in the back row, first on the left
[Image courtesy of http://www.baseballinwartime.com]

Aftermath

Williams returned to baseball for the 1946 season, picking up where he left off. For 1946, he hit .342, 38 homers, and 123 RBIs and appeared in the 1946 World Series (which the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 3).

Footnote #1: Williams's baseball career was again interrupted by war, when he was called up from the inactive Reserves to serve in the Korean War. After learning how to fly jets, he saw action in Korea over the course of 18 months. His wingman during part of his time in Korea was John Glenn, later to become NASA astronaut and U.S. Senator from Ohio.

Footnote #2: Ted Williams played into the1960 season; he hit the final home run of his career – number 521 – in his last at-bat of the season. For several years after his retirement, he worked as a special hitting instructor for the Red Sox during spring training. He went on to manage the Washington Senators – which later became the Texas Rangers – from 1969-1972. He died On July 5, 2002 of cardiac arrest.

Footnote #3: Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

Posted in top stories | 0 comments
 
« Previous story
Next story »

 

* To comment without a Facebook account, please scroll to the bottom.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Have a tip for us? A link that should appear here? Contact us.
News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.