Monday, May 2, 2011
Ted Williams: Biggest Jerk Ever
Ted Williams is one of the better known baseball players of all time. His Hall of Fame career with the Red Sox included two Triple Crowns (leading the league in batting average, home runs and rbi), 6 batting titles, 521 home runs and being the all-time leader in on base percentage. He also won two Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards. He might be the best player to never win a World Series (sorry Sox Fans, had to throw that in there). Unfortunately for Ted, I've discovered another legacy of his. Ted Williams was the biggest jerk ever, and I believe his standing with sports media cost him even more awards and acclamation.
It is not a secret that Williams was an ill-tempered, bitter jerk during his playing time. His relationship with the sports writers, and even fans, was well documented in the HBO documentary Ted Williams: There Goes the Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived. In the documentary they explain how the sports writers got too personal with Ted, which made him uncomfortable because, at the time, he was embarrassed about his upbringing. He responded by basically treating most reporters like crap throughout his career. Imagine if Ted played today, where nothing is really off-limits to the press (ask A-Rod). I believe this attitude (and some possible Yankees favoritism) cost Williams two, if not three MVP awards. Lets look at the evidence.
1941: Ted Williams Hits .406 - Finishes 2nd in the MVP Race
In 1941, Williams became the first man to hit .400 since Ty Cobb in 1922. Any time you do something Ty Cobb was the last to do, that's a big deal. 1941 is also the last time anyone has hit .400. It really is an amazing feat. Williams lost out on the MVP to New York Yankees center-fielder Joe Dimaggio. Now, this particular MVP race really could have gone either way, with Dimaggio hitting .357, leading the league in RBI and having his incredible 56 game hitting streak (a feat which has never been matched). So we have on one hand, Dimaggio's hitting streak, and on the other, the last man to hit .400. Williams also led the league in walks, runs, home runs, slugging percentage, on base percentage and, obviously, OPS. As I said, this one isn't the worst travesty I've ever seen, but some could make the case that Williams could have won the MVP that year if he had schmoozed a few more writers. The vote was 15-8, which is not as close as it could have been.
1942: Ted Williams wins the Triple Crown - Finishes 2nd in the MVP race
The last person to win the Triple Crown was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. That's 54 years ago. That's how rare it has become for hitters to win this award. In 1942, Williams won the triple crown by hitting .356 with 36 HR and 147 RBI. He also led the league in runs, walks, slugging percentage, on base percentage and (obviously) OPS. That's a season for the ages. Surely that would lead to an MVP award, right? Negative. New York Yankees second baseman Joe Gordon won the award with the following statistics: .322 18HR and 103 RBI. Williams hit 33 points higher with twice as many homers and 44 more RBI than Gordon. Gordon's other numbers also paled in comparison to those of Williams, but twelve baseball writers decided to vote for Gordon as the MVP. Only nine voted for Williams.
1947: Ted Williams wins the Triple Crown - Finishes 2nd in the MVP race
I mean... once is bad enough. To win two triple crowns and not win the MVP in either season is just plain crazy. Williams' numbers for the 1947 season: .343 with 32 HR and 114 RBI. He also (you guessed it) led the league in runs, walks, slugging percentage, on base percentage and (obviously) OPS. Someone else must have had a monster season to win the MVP ahead of Williams, right? The 1947 MVP went to Joe Dimaggio, who hit .315 with 20 HR and 97 RBI. Um...ok? Not to knock the great Joe-D, but come on, man! Williams' Triple Crown season netted him a total of 3 first place votes... Three! For a guy who led the league in every important offensive category there is? For shame, writers.
1957: Ted Williams hits .388 with 38 Home Runs - Finishes 2nd in the MVP race
This one I can't really argue, I just wanted to note that it's pretty impressive for a 38 year old man to hit .388 with 38 home runs. Mantle hit .365 with 34 HR and 94 RBI. That's why I won't argue that Williams could have won this MVP. I just think it's funny that this was Mantle's 2nd straight MVP. He won the MVP in 1956 when he won (you guessed it) the Triple Crown.
So, as you can see, Williams seems to have been screwed out of 3 MVP awards. Why did this happen? Can it all be blamed on Teddy's tumultuous relationship with the baseball writers? Some would argue that the MVP has become more about the power numbers than it once was (except for Dustin Pedroia's MVP award in 2007), or that team records could have had something to do with it (The Sox were constantly finishing behind the Yankees back then).
I think there was a combination of Williams' hatred for the media and the media's bias toward the Yankees. During the years when Ted Williams was an active player, the Yankees won seventeen World Championships. During that time, the Yankees had twelve MVPs. It's not uncommon for the best team's best player to win the MVP, but 12 times in about 19 seasons is a bit much, no?
It's a little sad, because Williams was also known as a very generous and kind man by those he knew and cared about. He was also a great war hero, fighting in World War II and the Korean War during the prime of his career. That just doesn't happen nowadays (except for the late Pat Tillman of the Phoenix Cardinals of the NFL). Williams is almost always remembered for the negatives of his personality and not the many positives, but that's how life tends to be. He was surly and mean to those who held the key to his public persona, and they painted the picture we all see today. They also decided the fate of his MVP performances... so Teddy's legacy will have to live on with the two MVPs he did win, in 1946 and 1949. Not too shabby, I suppose.