Ted Williams’s last homerun: a footnote or two, and some trivia

 

 

 

 

Ted Williams's last homer.jpg

 

 

 

Everyone knows that Ted Williams, incredibly, homered in his last at bat in the final game of his Major League career at Boston’s Fenway Park.

He homered off Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jack Fisher with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning on a one-and-one count.

The date was September 28, 1960. It was an overcast day. There were 10,454 fans in attendance.

 

 

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Two acquaintances of mine saw the homerun.

My Brandeis University roommate John Ferris, when he was in high school, skipped school to attend Ted’s last game. He told me a story once that is worth repeating.

Williams had come up in the bottom of the fifth inning, batting against Orioles reliever Jack Fisher (pitching in relief). He hit a tremendous drive to right center field that barely missed being a homerun.

Here’s how it was described by sportswriter Ed Linn (who was at the game) in his book Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams:

As the ball jumped off the bat, the cry “He did it!” arose from the stands. Right-fielder Al Pilarcik ran back as far as he could, pressed his back against the bull-pen fence, well out from the 380-foot sign, and stood there motionless, with his hands at his side. …

At the last moment, Pilarcik brought up his hands and caught the ball chest high, close to 400 feet from the plate, A moan of disappointment settled over the field, followed by a rising hum of excited chatter, and then, as Ted came back to the first-base line to take his glove from Pumpsie Green, a standing ovation. [It was the third out.]

“Damn,” Ted said when he returned to the bench at the end of the inning. “I hit the living hell out of that one. I really stung it. If that one didn’t go out, nothing is going out today.”

My friend John Ferris described the play to me with relish and added a detail. He said that Pilarcik waited for the ball to come down (as described by Linn) with his back against the bullpen fence, caught it just before it cleared the fence, and then, made a gesture in which he turned to toward the fans in right center field, shrugged his shoulders, and with body language seemed to be saying: “Sorry, but I couldn’t not catch the ball when I could.”

Not among the 10,454 paying customers but at the game in the eighth inning when Williams did homer was a relative of mine: McLaren Harris, then a graduate student at Boston University. As Harris told me years later, he had been listening to the game on the radio. Boston University is right next door to Fenway Park. Harris and his friends decided to attend the last couple of innings.

You could do that in those days because (besides the fact that the game was not a sellout), the Red Sox had a policy of opening the gates to fans after the seventh inning on. Anyone could enter for free. My older brother, friends, and I used to do this in the 1950’s.

So, Harris, with incredibly good fortune, arrived just in time to see Ted’s final homer.

 

 

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Some trivia about the game.

Gene Stephens was the left fielder for Baltimore. He went two for four with a double. It’s intriguing that he was playing on the opposing team because Stephens spent most of his career with the Red Sox. Stephens played for the Red Sox from 1952 until 1960, when he was traded (in mid season, on June 9) to the Orioles. I remember Stephens well because in the 1950’s he would always be entering the game in late innings as a replacement in left field for Williams. The sportswriters called him Ted Williams’s caddy.

It’s worth noting, also, that Stephens had been traded for Orioles outfielder Willie Tasby. In his famous piece about the game for The New Yorker, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” John Updike describes Williams warming up before the game by playing catch with Tasby. Tasby played center field that day.

Despite Williams’s homer, the Red Sox went into the bottom of the ninth trailing by a score of 4-3. With one out, Red Sox second baseman Marlan Coughtry singled off Fisher. Then pinch hitter Vic Wertz doubled, sending Coughtry to third. Vic Wertz, none other than the slugger whose fly ball to the deepest part of center field at the Polo Grounds in the first game of the 1954 World Series was caught by Willie Mays in a play that came to be known as The Catch.

Red Sox pitcher Tom Brewer came in to pinch run for Wertz. I remember Brewer well. He once came to speak to a church supper at the North Congregational Church in Cambridge, which my family attended, in the 1950’s.

The next batter was Pumpsie Green. He walked. The aforementioned Willie Tasby grounded to third. The second baseman, Billy Klaus, attempting to complete a double play, threw wildly to first. Coughtry and Brewer scored and the Red Sox won 5-4.

I recall Klaus well from the 1950’s, when he played shortstop for the Red Sox. He was traded to the Orioles after the 1958 season. Klaus began the 1959 season playing third base for the Orioles, but was replaced in mid-season by none other than Brooks Robinson and moved to shortstop.

Another piece of trivia. Gene Stephens was traded in 1961 by the Orioles to the Kansas City Athletics for first baseman Marv Throneberry: “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry. Throneberry was the starting first baseman for the 1962 New York Mets. (I remember “Marvelous Marv” best from Miller Beer ads). And, who was Marvelous Marv’s older brother? Faye Throneberry: an outfielder who played sparingly for the Red Sox in the 1950’s. I had his baseball card.

 

 

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A final observation.

John Updike’s 1960 New Yorker article about the game, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” is regarded as a classic.

Ed Linn also wrote an account that was published as “The Kid’s Last Game” in the February 1961 issue of Sport magazine and that is also contained in Linn’s book Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams (1993).

In my humble opinion, Linn’s account is more informative — there is no comparison when it comes to descriptive detail — and more telling. I prefer it to Updike’s.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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