1953: Year We Almost Lost Ted Williams
Most baseball fans know that Ted Williams missed close to five seasons due to hit being a pilot in World War II and Korea. He missed the entire 1943, 1944 and 1945 seasons during World War II.
He played in only six games in 1952 and 39 games in 1953. From 1952-1960 he never played in more than 136 games or batted more than 420 times.
That explains why he finished his career with 2,654 hits because he batted only 7,706 times which ranks him 159th among all major leaguers.
Pete Rose batted 14,053 times to lead all major leaguers with Hank Aaron next with 12,364 at bats. Aaron batted 4,658 more times than Williams.
Aaron had 3,771 hits while Williams had 2,654 when he retired. Williams missed the equivalent of nine 500 at bat seasons compared to Aaron.
If Williams had 150 hits in each of those nine seasons he would have finished with 4004 hits. If he had 160 hits in each of those nine seasons he would have finished with 4,094 hits.
The alltime hits leader Rose batted close to 2000 more times than Williams even when figuring in the extra nine seasons for Williams and still would have finished only 162 hits ahead of Williams.
The reason Williams could have been that close to Rose is that Williams had the 7th best lifetime batting average of .344 while Rose hit .302 during his career and was ranked 170th.
All of this is conjecture to give an idea of what kind of stats Williams would have had if he had batted more often.
He also would have hit many more homers using the same number of at bats. If he hit 30 homers a season which is very conservative given the fact that he hit 29 homers in 390 at bats during his last season he would have finished with 791 homers which would still be the record.
All of the above numbers would have meant nothing if Williams hadn’t survived a couple of very close calls in 1953 while a pilot with the Marines in Korea.
On February 4 of 1953 Williams arrived in Korea. Only thirteen days later on February 17 he was on a mission to bomb an enemy troop base. He lost sight of the plane in front of him and flew lower so he could see the plane ahead of him better.
When he dropped lower he was hit by North Korean soldiers using small arms fire. All the warning lights in the cockpit were lit and he had lost radio contact.
He was told by another pilot to bail out of the plane but he didn’t know his plane was on fire so he remained in the cockpit.
Williams was unable to lower the landing gear but miraculously made it back to the airport. However there was an explosion that rocked the plane when a wheel door blew off.
He made his approach at 225 miles per hour twice the recommended speed. The emergency wheel latch only could lower one wheel leaving him no way to make a normal landing.
The plane continued over a mile on the airstrip and almost hit two firetrucks in place in case of an explosion. The plane finally came to a stop on the edge of the airstrip with only the cockpit not in flames.
Williams dove headfirst into the tarmac to safety and was very angry to see the plane completely destroyed.
He would have another close call on April 28 of 1953 when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire due to being forced to fly lower by heavy winds. He was lucky his fuel reserves tank wasn’t ignited and returned to the base safely.
In a little over two months the best hitter in baseball had two brushes with death and escaped unscathed.
Williams had an abrasive personality and was never a media favorite but nobody can ever question his bravery during the time he flew 39 missions.
What he accomplished in Korea transcends anything he ever did on a baseball field.
We came close to seeing his baseball career ended twice in 1953 in Korea and it would have been a tragedy to lose him at the age of 34 defending his country.
After learning of his close calls I have a new respect for Ted Williams and know he put his country first when he would rather have been playing baseball.