Fifty years ago Monday, Ted Williams was taking batting practice in Fenway Park before Boston's 1941 opener against Washington. Benched by a chipped bone in his ankle, Williams still hit four balls into the right field seats.
"That guy can hit with one leg off," teammate Jim Tabor said.And how.
Williams delivered a pinch single that day, driving in a run as the Red Sox rallied for a 7-6 victory.
That same day in Philadelphia, Joe DiMaggio had a single and double as the New York Yankees lost 4-1. It was the second straight 2-for-4 day for DiMaggio, who had singled and tripled in the presidential opener at Washington a day earlier.
And that's how two of the greatest hitting seasons in baseball history began, 50 years ago today.
Williams would go on to bat .406 that season, the last .400 hitter in history. DiMaggio would hit in 56 straight games over two months in the heart of the summer, a stretch in which he batted .408 and lost four points in the batting race to Williams, who hit .412.
The 56-game streak began May 15 in New York with a single and ended July 16 in Cleveland when third baseman Ken Keltner made two backhanded stops of shots down the line. From start to finish, Joe D. went 91-for-223 with 35 extra base hits, 15 of them home runs, and drove in 55 runs.
The day after the Indians stopped him, DiMaggio began another streak, this one for 16 games. That gave him hits in 72 of 73 games from mid-May through the end of July.
Williams, meanwhile, started the season slowly because of the ankle injury. He got going in May when he batted .436. He was hitting .404 at the All-Star break and won that game against the National League with a dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning.
After reinjuring his ankle, Williams was limited to pinch hitting for 10 days and his average dipped to .393. When he got back in lineup, though, he went on a 17-for-32 tear, boosting his average to .412.
From then until the end of the season, Williams hovered around .400. Going into the last day, his average was .3996, a fraction below that when rounded off would be .400.
With the final doubleheader meaningless for both teams, Boston manager Joe Cronin suggested that Williams take the day off and sit on .400. Williams rejected that idea and put on a hitting clinic on that final day with six hits in eight swings, finishing the season at .406.
Pete Suder was in his first major league season with the A's that year and vividly recalled the achievements of DiMaggio and Williams.
"Here I am a rookie and I see one guy hit in 56 straight games and another guy hit .406," he said. "I'm batting .245 and I think I'm in the wrong league."
Not really. Never again in the half century since has anyone batted .400 or come close to a 56-game hitting streak. They were once-in-a-lifetime achievements that celebrate their golden anniversaries this season.