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.
Two acquaintances of mine saw the homerun.
My Brandeis University roommate John Ferris, when he was in junior 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 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.
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.
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.
— posted by Roger W. Smith
Pitcher Jack Fisher’s recollections of that date are recorded in the following article:
Jack Fisher: So, What Was That Like?
By Elon Green
The New Yorker
May 1, 2014
At the end of a career that spanned four decades, Ted Williams announced his retirement from baseball, on September 26, 1960. Two days later, he played his last game—at home, in Boston, against the Baltimore Orioles.
Steve Barber was the starting pitcher for the Orioles. He allowed two runs in under an inning, and was replaced by a twenty-one-year-old right-hander, Jack Fisher.
In the seventh inning, with the Orioles ahead 4–2, Fisher threw Ted Williams—in his last at-bat—a fastball. Williams thwacked the ball toward center field. John Updike, who attended the game, tracked the ball’s trajectory as it “struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.”
Here is Jack Fisher’s memory of that day:
As you probably heard, it was a very cold, dank day type thing. Williams earlier had hit a ball off of me to right field—a fly ball that our right fielder, Al Pilarcik, caught back close to the warning track. So Williams had hit the ball pretty well that time, and I thought, Uh oh, but it was an out. So, it’s the seventh inning, and he comes up, and Jackie Jensen was their next hitter, right-hand hitter, and with the short left-field wall there, I thought, There’s no way I’m gonna pitch around Williams.
I think the first pitch was a ball. The next pitch—he swung and missed—was another fastball. The next pitch I just went to another fastball and he hit it out. Made the score four to three.
I mean, all I was trying to do was win the ballgame. The fact that he hit the home run wasn’t that big to me because I’d actually had pretty good success against him.
After he hit the home run, he went in [the dugout] and of course, as you know, he kind of ignored the fans and everything. And they were all standing and waiting and wanting him to come out of the dugout and wave to him or something like that. And finally, he’s sitting on the bench and he waved to me and said, “Go ahead and pitch. I’m not gettin’ up.” I actually stood behind the mound and waited for him to come out, but he didn’t.
We went back to Baltimore, probably by train, at that time. And got to the hotel room, and I thought I knew what hotel he stayed at in Boston. So I gave him a call, and asked for Ted Williams’s room. And I’ll be damned—they hooked me up, and Ted answered the phone! And I said, “Well, I guess I got to congratulate ya for, you know, retiring on a home run and everything.” He pretty much told me, at the time, “Hey, I wanna thank you for challenging me, and not really pitching around me or anything.” And I said, “Hell, I’m two runs up in the game. What am I pitching around you for?” So I did get to talk to him, that night after we got home.
One of the sportswriters looked it up, and he said that Williams lifetime was two for thirteen off of me. So I did all right against him.
Note that Fisher mentions that the cleanup hitter, following Williams, was Jackie Jensen. Jensen was not in the lineup that day. The cleanup hitter, batting fourth, was catcher Jim Pagliaroni. Jensen retired after the 1959 season and was not on the team in 1960. He returned to the Red ox in 1961 and played one more season.
This is all very interesting. There’s a possibility here, not mentioned, that either the Orioles’ pitcher or catcher (or maybe both) was (or were) floating nice pitches into Williams so he could hit this homer. This could be achieved by the pitcher just through moderately high fastballs or by the catcher muttering to Williams before the pitch something like “fastball, letter high.”
There was no reason not to do this — the Yankees had the American League title sewed up and there were no divisional playoffs or wildcards. So the outcome of the game was relatively meaningless.
This sort of thing happens often in professional sports when major stars are retiring. In fact, it clearly happened in one of Michael Jordan’s last home games with the Wizards, which we attended with Henry and Stephen. As I recall, Jordan had been held to something like 4 or 6 points in the previous game, which the press used as a way to say his career was over. The next game he scored almost all of the points in the first half, swishing from all over the court, but with hardly anyone on the other side presenting a serious defense. Again the outcome of the game wasn’t going to affect the standings — both teams were already out of the playoffs.
Interesting, Pete. Certainly possible. It was said it may have been so when Hank Aaron hit his record breaking home run of Al Downing.
But then … I don’t think so in this case. But perhaps I don’t want any “asterisks” applied to the Ted Williams myth.
Jack Fisher was interviewed after the game. They would not have asked him if he telegraphed the pitch, but it would be interesting to see what he did say about the at bat.