The Kid interrupted his baseball career not once, but twice, to serve in the military and fight for our country.
After winning the Triple Crown in 1942, Williams enlisted in the Navy to fight in World War II. He could have accepted a safe assignment and played on a Navy baseball team somewhere. But that wasn’t part of the man’s character.
He went to flight school and learned how to fly fighter jets. He proved to be as good with an airplane as he was with a bat and received his wings and commission in the Marine Corps in 1944. Then he taught other young pilots how to fly. As he awaited orders to join a fleet overseas, the war ended.
He returned to the Red Sox in 1946.
Six years and 1,018 hits later, he was recalled into active service to fight in the Korean War. He flew 37 combat missions, faced enemy fire, survived a crash landing and had several missions with John Glenn. (Glenn went on to become the first man to orbit the Earth and served four terms in the U.S. Senate.) Williams received the Air Medal with two Gold Stars.
He was relieved from active duty on July 23, 1953.
He went back to playing the game he loved.
All told, military service cost Williams 724 games. He missed three full major league seasons from 1943 to 1945 (460 games) and most of two others in 1952 (148 games) and 1953 (116 games).
He retired in 1960 and still finished his career with 521 home runs, 525 doubles, 71 triples and 2,654 hits.
Imagine what those numbers would have looked like if Teddy Ballgame had not sacrificed the prime years of his playing days.
How many more Triple Crowns would he have won?
How many more MVPs?
How many World Series titles would he have helped the Red Sox win?
The biggest knock on Ted Williams was that he never won a Fall Classic. But Williams did something more important than that. He did something more impressive than bringing a championship to Boston.
He served his country selflessly.
That is bigger than any game, any series, anything he could have ever accomplished on a baseball field.
Williams didn’t have to join the military. He did it by choice. And he wasn’t alone.
If it weren’t for people like Williams — and thousands of other soldiers whose names aren’t famous — the world might look different.
Ted Williams never became a champion. But the Hall of Famer will always be a hero.