Boston Red Sox baseball legend and a United States Marine
World War II
Williams served as a Marine pilot during World War II and the Korean War. He had been classified 3-A by Selective Service prior to the war, a dependency deferment because he was his mother's sole support. When his classification was changed to 1-A following U.S. entry into the war, Williams appealed to his draft board. The board agreed that his status should not have been changed. He made a public statement that once he had built up his mother's trust fund, he intended to enlist. Even so, criticism in the media, including withdrawal of an endorsement contract by Quaker Oats, resulted in his enlistment in the Navy on May 22, 1942.
On May 1, 1952, at the age of 34, he was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War. He hadn't flown for some eight years but turned away all offers to sit out the war in comfort as a member of a service baseball team. Nevertheless Williams was resentful of being called up, which he admitted years later, particularly of the Navy's policy to call up Inactive Reservists rather than members of the Active Reserve.
Williams eventually flew 39 combat missions before being pulled from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia resulted in discovery of an inner ear infection that disqualified him from flight status. During the war he also served in the same unit as John Glenn and in the last half of his missions, he was serving as Glenn's wingman. While these absences, which took almost five years out of the heart of a great career, significantly limited his career totals, he never publicly complained about the time devoted to military service. Biographer Leigh Montville argues that Williams was not happy about being pressed into service in Korea, but he did what he felt was his patriotic duty.
Williams had a strong respect for General Douglas MacArthur, referring to him as his "idol". For Williams' fortieth birthday, MacArthur sent him an oil painting of himself with the inscription "To Ted Williams - not only America's greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army."
Summary of career
Williams's two MVP Awards and two Triple Crowns came in four different years. Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Chuck Klein are the only players since the establishment of the MVP award to win the Triple Crown and not be named league MVP in that season.
In his induction speech in 1966, Williams included a statement calling for the recognition of the great Negro Leagues players: "I've been a very lucky guy to have worn a baseball uniform, and I hope some day the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way can be added as a symbol of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren't given a chance."
At the time of his retirement, Williams ranked third all-time in home runs (behind Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx), seventh in RBIs (after Ruth, Cap Anson, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Foxx, and Mel Ott; Stan Musial would pass Williams in 1962), and seventh in batting average (behind Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lefty O'Doul, Ed Delahanty and Tris Speaker). His career batting average is the highest of any player who played his entire career in the post-1920 live-ball era.
In 1999, Williams was ranked as Number 8 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, where he was the highest-ranking left fielder.