SDI Side Notes – February 21
1969 – In his return to baseball, three years after being inducted into Cooperstown and nine after his historic last-at-bat home run, Ted Williams agrees to manage the Washington Senators.
Some of the best stories from Ted Williams’ time as Rangers manager can be found in Mike Shropshire’s brilliant book Seasons in Hell, about those early Rangers teams.
But my favorite was when he hit before a Rangers-Red Sox game in 1972.
I was a few years from coming into existence, so I have to defer to the Hardball Times for this memory:
“On Aug. 25, 1972, Williams was just five days short of his 54th birthday. His playing weight was just a distant memory, and he tried to camouflage his expanding girth by wearing a warmup jacket at all times. Obviously, he was long past his prime. But when you’re a living legend and 33,551 people are chanting your name…
Williams strolled over to the Rangers bat rack and rummaged through the lumber. He found one of Tom Grieve’s bats to his liking, so he ambled up to the plate to face the offerings of Lee “Stinger” Stange, the Red Sox pitching coach and a 10-year major league veteran. So far as any of the Rangers could recall, this was the first time Williams had picked up a bat all year. And he’s going to go up there and take some cuts? What was he thinking?
Actually, you have to wonder what was going through Lee Stange’s mind. Stange had signed with the original Washington Senators and started his major league career with the Twins in 1961 after the franchise moved to Minnesota. Ted Williams had launched his last home run at Fenway on his last at bat of the 1960 season, so Stange had never faced Williams.
Williams doffed his warmup jacket and took up residence in the Fenway batter’s box, as he had done so many times dating back to 1939.
Stange offered up a couple of lobs until Williams exhorted him to put some mustard on his offerings. Stange did so and Williams put on a show for the fans. Fifteen pitches… fifteen swings… fifteen ropes.
There’s a great aside from that. For one, Ted used Tom Grieve‘s bat. That was a W 183 Louisville Slugger. Grieve didn’t realize the “W” stood for Williams. The bat was a Williams turning model that, a decade after he retired, was still popular enough that Slugger still made them.
For another thing, Grieve, then a young Rangers outfielder, wondered at the display to Nellie Fox, a Rangers coach and future Hall of Famer himself.
“I looked at Nellie Fox after the round and said, ‘Nellie that was pretty impressive. The guy hasn’t picked up a bat in five years and he hit every ball hard,” Grieve said. “Nellie looked at me and said, ‘He has been hitting in the cage for six weeks just in case he decided to play today. You didn’t really think he would go out there and embarrass himself?’”
That was quintessential Williams.
His tenure would bring him to Texas with the team in 1972. For more on that move, check out Joe Stroop’s memories of the move from Washington to Texas, which was anything but an event-free relocation.
Then, reminisce about Ted’s single year in Rangers red and blue as Joe takes you down a memory lane of Rangers managerial high-(and often low-)lights.