.388/.526/.731, 1.257 OPS, 546 PA, 163 H, 119 BB, 38 HR, 87 RBI, 67 XBH, 11.1 AB/HR, 233 OPS+ All-Star starter, Major League Player of the Year, MVP – 2
Those who look for career-year performances at an old age as an indicator of steroid use should beware the example of Ted Williams – who was 38 and 10 years removed from his last full 200 OPS+ season. In 1957, Williams was fighting off injuries and age. He hadn’t played 150 games since 1948, 145 games since 1951. After two years in Korea, he played only 117 and 98 games. In 1956, Williams played in 136 games, the most in five years. While he was excellent (175 OPS+), it did not portend the monster year that would follow.
Williams missed the first two weeks of the season, but started hot once he did start. Entering June, he was hitting .411, well in the batting lead. A midsummer slump put him in a neck-and-neck race with Mickey Mantle for the batting title, and Williams, apparently feeling the end of his career approaching, said: “I want this batting title so badly I can taste it.” So Williams, at long last, began beating the shift, slapping balls to left to open up more room on the right side. His numbers rose accordingly. As late as Aug. 20, Williams was posting a batting average of .390. Mantle faded – or, rather, simply couldn’t sustain Williams’ level of production – and the Splinter had his fifth batting title (he would actually win his sixth and final crown the next season). Mantle, however, won the MVP at season’s end, as the Red Sox were awful that year (look at Williams’ RBI total, for an example).
Even at 38, no one could touch Williams when he was on. From July 23-Aug. 9, Williams was on. During a 17-game hitting streak, Ted hit a remarkable .533/.608/.783. In that stretch, his two-hit games (eight) outnumbered his one-hit games (six). By contrast, just 17 of DiMaggio’s 56 games in his historic hitting streak 17 years earlier were multihit games, and in the best 17-game stretch of that streak (the final 17), DiMaggio collected more than one hit just seven times. Earlier in the season, meanwhile, Williams had set an American League record, becoming the first of what is now six AL players to collect two three-homer games.
At the time, Williams set big-league records for his age in home runs (he now places fifth), on-base percentage (now second), slugging (now second), OPS (now second), extra-base hits (now second), times on base (now third) and walks (now second). He still holds records for the most total bases, highest batting average and best OPS+ by a 38-year-old.
Key game: Sept. 21. Coming off two weeks out of action in early September, Williams had reached base in three consecutive pinch-hit appearances coming into this game, his first start since Aug. 31. Playing in Yankee Stadium, Williams is intentionally walked in the first. With the bases loaded in the second, he unloads on the first pitch for a grand slam – the only strike he will see all game, as he walks in the fourth and sixth before being lifted for a pinch runner in the 8-3 win. The next day, Williams keeps going. He walks in the first, belts a home run in the fourth, singles in the sixth and walks in the eighth.
The Red Sox move to Washington on Sept. 23, but that doesn’t faze Williams, who singles and scores in the first, walks and scores in the second, walks and scores in the fourth, walks again in the sixth and is hit by a pitch in the eighth. Williams grounds out in the first inning on Sept. 24, ending his all-time-record streak of 16 consecutive times reaching base. The next day, Sept. 25, Williams is intentionally walked for the 33rd time, an AL record (shattering his own mark of 17 set in 1955) that has yet to be broken.