Baseball cherishes its records, especially the few with remarkable staying power. On Sept. 28, 1941, 75 years ago yesterday, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox wrapped up his and his team’s season with a six-hits-in-eight-at-bats performance in a Sunday doubleheader against the Athletics at Philadelphia’s ancient Shibe Park that gave him a season batting average of .406, meaning that over the course of the season, the 23-year-old Williams had gotten four hits for every ten at-bats.
Before the games that day, the Bosox slugger’s average was .39955, which rounded up to .400 by the rules of the time. When Red Sox manager Joe Cronin offered Williams the chance to sit out the games against the Athletics to preserve the technical .400 average, the player demurred, saying, according to reports from that time, “If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I want more than my toenails on the line.”
In his third season in the majors, Williams was a master at the plate over the 143 games he played in: 47 home runs, 185 hits in 456 at-bats for his .406, 120 RBIs, 134 runs scored, 147 walks, and just 27 strikeouts.
No one has hit for a .400 average in the majors since then. The closest anyone has come in the last 75 years was George Brett of Kansas City, who posted a .390 BA in 1977. In 1957, Ted himself, at age 39, hit .388 to win the fifth of his six batting titles.
Over time, the Number .406 has attained legendary status for baseball fans. But in 1941, batting over .400 was almost commonplace; it had been done seven times since the early 1920s, with the most recent posting by the New York Giants’ Bill Terry, who batted .401 in 1930.
Not to be forgotten, of course, is the other legendary mark set in 1941 that has also remained on the books for 75 years: New York’s Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
When placed against Williams’s feat, Joltin’ Joe’s season numbers – .357 batting average, 30 home runs, and a league-leading 125 RBIs – earned him the national baseball writers’ acclaim as the American League Most Valuable Player, a not-unreasonable selection given that the Yankees, in winning the pennant, led the second-place Red Sox by 17 games.