Ted Williams always knew what he wanted. Others could debate who was the best all-around player in baseball history. But Williams was a hitter.
"All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived,'" Williams said.
Mission accomplished. The debate will rage forever, but the question of "greatest hitter" will always include the the longtime Red Sox left fielder.
Williams won six batting titles, but that doesn’t really explain his mastery at the plate. Thanks to an excellent batting eye, Williams led the American League in on-base percentage 12 times overall, including each season he played from 1940-49, when he missed three full years due to his service in the Marines. His .482 career on-base percentage is the best of all time.
Williams also led the AL in home runs four times, and his .634 career slugging percentage is second to only Babe Ruth.
In his third big league season in 1941, Williams hit .406 – becoming the last big leaguer to reach the .400 mark. He entered the final day of the season with a batting average of .3995, which would be rounded up to .400 in the final averages. But Williams insisted on playing in the final day's doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics, going 6-for-8 to reach the .400 mark with points to spare.
Williams won the AL Triple Crown in 1942 with 36 home runs, 137 RBI and a .356 batting average. He then spent three years serving his country during World War II as a pilot instructor. He returned to the big leagues in 1946, helping Boston win the AL pennant and winning the league's Most Valuable Player Award. In 1947, Williams again won the league's Triple Crown.
Then in 1949, Williams won his second MVP – missing out on a third Triple Crown when the Tigers' George Kell edged him in the batting title race by .00016 points.
In 1950, Williams was hitting .321 with 25 home runs and 83 RBI through 70 games at the All-Star Break when he fractured his elbow in the All-Star Game while catching a liner off the bat of Ralph Kiner. The injury cost Williams about a third of the season, though he still finished with 28 home runs, 97 RBI and a .317 batting average.
Early in the 1952 season – a the height of the Korean War – Williams was recalled to duty by the Marines, who were in desperate need of pilots. He served in Korea for more than a year, flying combat missions in a Marine fighter jet and missing most of the 1952 and 1953 seasons.
Williams was an all-star in every non-military interrupted season after his rookie campaign, totaling 19 All-Star Game selections. He hit .388 in his age-38 season in 1957 to lead the big leagues, then followed that up with another batting title in 1958 with a .328 mark.
In his final season, 1960, as a 41-year-old, he hit .316 with 29 home runs.
Williams retired following the 1960 season, hitting a home run in his final at-bat on Sept. 28, 1960. He finished his career with a .344 batting average, 521 home runs, 2,021 walks and 1,839 RBI.
Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966 and served as the manager of the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers franchise from 1969-72.
He passed away on July 5, 2002.