Any player/Any era: Ted Williams

What he did: In 1957, Ted Williams defied logic and baseball history up to his time. At 38, and nearing the end of his storied career, Williams almost had his finest season, hitting .388 with a slugging percentage of .731 and an OPS+ of 233. All three were American League bests, and Williams just missed his career highs from 1941 when he hit .406 with a slugging percentage of .735 and an OPS+ of 234. Williams used a heavier bat in 1957 than he’d wielded as a leaner, younger man and, whether for this or other reasons, he performed in stark contrast to other Hall of Famers. At 38, Babe Ruth was in decline. Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, and Joe DiMaggio were retired. Lou Gehrig was dead.

Ballplayers in general don’t peak or revitalize at so late an age, though it’s happened more in recent years, perhaps because of steroids. One need only look at Barry Bonds’ run from 2001 to 2004 when he hit 209 home runs with a .349 batting average and his four highest OPS+ scores. Rumors of Bonds’ chemical enhancement aside, I see at least a few parallels between him and Williams, what with their sometimes surly personalities, otherworldly talent, and unusual late career transformations from skinny young ballplayers to bulky sluggers. It makes me wonder how Williams might have fared at Bonds’ home in later seasons, AT&T Park.

Era he might have thrived in: We’re moving Williams to his native California in a time where he’d receive greater medical care, conditioning, and a ballpark seemingly built to let the left-hander pull home runs into the cove beyond the right field fence like no player besides Bonds. Williams would also get the chance to do something no one’s ever done– hit .400 just shy of age 40. Bonds may have been unreal in later seasons, but Williams wouldn’t be far off.

Why: Bonds probably has the edge in power, since he hit a record 73 of his 762 home runs in 2001, though he did it with a .328 batting average, below his career best clip the following year of .370. That’s excellent, of course, though because Williams hit .388 in 1957, a rather ordinary year for hitters, he’d do even better in the translation to 2001. The stat converter has Williams hitting .391 with 41 home runs and 89 RBI. His OPS of 1.269 would trail Bonds circa 2001 at 1.379, though differentiating those scores is like choosing between a Porsche and a Lamborghini.

San Francisco isn’t even the peak option for Williams in 2001. In Fenway Park in Boston, the hitters pinball machine Williams played in all his years in the majors, his 1957 season converts to a .412 batting average with 44 home runs and 101 RBI. Williams would have the opportunity to serve as a designated hitter in the modern American League, getting him out of left field where he didn’t fare much better than Bonds in later years. He’d also probably be an upgrade over Boston’s DH the majority of 2001, Manny Ramirez. His projected stats are certainly far better.

Still, for our purposes, I like San Francisco, and it would be a great challenge for Williams, enough of a fighter to serve in two wars and battle the Boston media in between.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge CaseHarmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Willie Mays

2 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Ted Williams”

  1. You know, you just made me wonder something. If Ted Williams came up in the early/mid 70’s, would he have killed his career by insisting on playing for a southern Cal team when he got near being a free agent? That’s exactly what happened with Fred Lynn. I never thought about it ’til now, but I wonder if Teddy Ballgame would’ve done the same, if he had the opportunity. And I wonder how it would’ve affected his HOF chances.

  2. It really is a great hypothetical to contemplate, Graham.

    Williams was such a scientist of hitting and so skilled, he might have surpassed Bonds and co. even without the use of PED’s. Plus with the greater care ballplayer have now he might have lasted longer and been better, not the least of which he would have had those 5 years back from service in two wars

    It’s true that his hitting skills were almost other-wordly, as well as based on such intense work and focus. And your blog led me to think that this is in some large way the short-cut that PED’s provide, not only strength, but a greater alertness, concentration confidence and the ability to focus; all the qualities Williams cultivated from not just talent, but from years of such hard work and a total commitment to hitting.

    The other worldly part one can cite from Williams’ oft-cited comments that he could see the stitches on the ball from a pitch that was coming his way or that he could read a record label on the old 78 rpm records, or smelling smoke off his bat when making strong contact with the ball. There was something uncanny there and it was not like Williams to exaggerate.

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