Yellow-Bellied

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

At the beginning of the day on September 28th, 1941, Ted Williams’ batting average stood at a masterful .39955, approximately 40 points higher than his nearest competitor. Williams was assured of being the American League batting champ, and thanks to a bit of rounding, he’d become just the twentieth man to ever finish a season at .400 or better. The Boston Red Sox still had a double-header against the Philadelphia Athletics to finish the season, but the games were meaningless, as the pennant had long been locked up. And yet, when Red Sox manager Joe Cronin suggested that Williams sit out the twin bill, what did Williams reply?

  • I don’t care to be known as a .400 hitter with a lousy average of .39955.

    -Ted Williams

No, Ted Williams was going to play in those two games, and finish out his season. As any good Red Sox fan can tell you, Williams went 6-8 in that doubleheader1. He finished the season at .4062, and still stands as the last major leaguer to finish a season over .400. That’s the way you play the game. As another batting champion and Hall of Famer said:

  • There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time – I owe him my best.

    -Joe DiMaggio

Flash-forward seventy years, to September 28th, 2011. Playing for the long-ago eliminated New York Mets, Jose Reyes’ batting average stood at a league-leading .336 to start the day. Right behind Reyes was the playoff-bound Brewers’ Ryan Braun, batting .335. Reyes was playing in a day game against the Reds, while Braun was facing the Pirates in the Brewers night game.

So what happened? Reyes led off the bottom of 1st with a bunt single, upping his average to .337. He was then immediately pulled from the game, to prevent any chance of his average dropping. After the game, Reyes stated that the idea was his; if he started off with a hit, he wanted to be taken out, to give himself the best chance to win the batting title.

“I said, ‘If I go 1-for-1, take me out of the game,'” Reyes said. “And I did that. If I went 0-for-1, maybe I’m still in the game until I get a hit. … I wanted to stay in the game, but (Mets fans) have to understand, too, what’s going on. They have to feel happy about it if I win the batting title. I do that for the team, for the fans too, because they’ve been supporting me all the way through. I’ve (had) throughout my career a lot of ups and downs here with a lot of injuries. One thing I do all the time is give 100 percent on the field.”

Giving 100 percent on the field only counts when you don’t pull yourself off the field.

There was actually some risk in Reyes’ gambit, as Braun could have passed Reyes with a 3-3 or 3-4 night. Unfortunately, karma didn’t work fast enough. Braun put up a goose egg in the hit column, going 0-4 to finish the year at .332, and Reyes won the title. Nevertheless, while it may not be there in the record books, Reyes’ batting crown will always have an asterisk next to it in my mind.


Footnotes:

  1. The Splendid Splinter went 4-5 with a HR in that first game against the A’s, finishing it up at .404. He then played in game two anyway, going 2-3 with a double. ↩︎

  2. While researching this, I stumbled on an even more incredible fact – by today’s stats, Williams started the day at .405, and finished at .411! How is that possible? In 1941, a sacrifice fly still counted as an at-bat. Get the full scoop from David Marasco. ↩︎


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