Theodore Samuel Williams was born on August 30, 1918. This week, we celebrate his 100th anniversary.

He accomplished his goal. Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron may have been better power hitters. You could argue that the graceful Joe DiMaggio or Willie Mays was a better all-around player. If you're talking about the greatest hitter that ever stepped into the batters box, the discussion begins with the long-time Red Sox left fielder.

He 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 seven straight years and 12 times overall. His .482 career on-base percentage is the best of all time. And he wasn't just doing it with walks and singles. Williams led the AL in home runs four times, and his .634 career slugging percentage is second to only Ruth.

He did all of it despite missing most of five seasons due to military service. He learned to fly fighter planes during World War II, working as an instructor from 1943-1945. He was recalled to duty in 1952 during the height of the Korean War, and he served in Korea for more than a year, flying combat missions in a Marine fighter jet.

That missed time explains why the game's greatest hitter didn't reach 3,000 hits. After missing the all-star game as a rookie, Williams was an all-star in every non-military interrupted season of the rest of his career. He wasn't just being grandfathered in. In his final season, 1960, as a 41-year-old, he hit .316 with 29 home runs. His body may have been failing him, but his ability to hit never left.

Williams' goal was never to be beloved. He took his hitting into the outfield early in his career--he'd practice swings between pitches. Those kind of quirks and some signs of defensive indifference didn't always endear him to Red Sox' fans. His relationship with the Boston community wasn't helped by along-running feud between Williams and much of the Boston media. The newspapermen didn't make Williams' life any easier, but Williams didn't help himself with his legendary stubborness. The same personality that ensured he could remember a pitch that struck him out three months before was not going to forget any slights inflicted by a hostile press.

After his retirement, the memories of his difficulties with fans slowly retreated, while the memories of his amazing career, and his honorable military service became more and more prominent. By the time he threw out the first pitch for the 1999 all-star game, he was revered as a baseball treasure, as the game's best current players mobbed Williams to touch and talk to the game's biggest star."

 

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