April 30, 1952 was proclaimed “Ted Williams Day.” Williams had been recalled to active military duty and this was to be his final game before reporting to Willow Grove Naval Reserve Base. The Red Sox held an on field celebration for Teddy Ballgame and gave him a car as a gift.
Tigers vs Red Sox
The 2-8 Tigers visited Fenway Park to face the 9-2 Red Sox on “Ted Williams Day.” The Red Sox sent their ace to the mound, Mel Parnell, who had won 61 games over the previous three seasons. He was opposed by Virgil Trucks of the Tigers, who was an All-Star in 1949 and won 19 games. At first, the game was a pitcher’s duel.
The Tigers got two men in scoring position in the top half of the first, but failed to score. Dom DiMaggio was the Red Sox leadoff hitter, the only remaining member aside from Ted Williams of the group of friends. DiMaggio started things off with a hit to center and proceeded to steal second base. However, DiMaggio was erased on a fielder’s choice. Ted Williams singled in his first at-bat on his day, but the Red Sox failed to score in the first.
The Tigers threatened in the top of the third, getting men on the corners with one out. Bud Souchock hit a line drive that was caught by Ted Lepcio at second base. Lepcio then threw to first to double up the runner who was too far off the base and end the threat.
The Scoring Begins
The Tigers finally got to Parnell in the fifth inning. A single and a walk had two men on with one out and the Tigers best hitter, George Kell, coming up. Kell doubled to left to score the game’s first run. Parnell struck out Vic Wertz and then got a lineout off the bat of Johnny Groth to get out of the jam with no further damage.
Facing their first deficit, the Red Sox bat awakened in the bottom of the inning. Ted Lepcio doubled to left. Catcher Sammy White followed that up with a single and the Sox had men on the corners with no one out. Mel Parnell hit one out in front of the plate which catcher Matt Batts pounced on. Batts had a play at first but threw the ball away, allowing both Sox runners to come around and score. Parnell wound up all the way on third base on the play and the Sox had a 2-1 lead. Dom DiMaggio followed with a base hit to give the Red Sox a 3-1 lead. The Sox would get a couple more runners but the scoring was over.
The Tigers got a lead-off walk from George Kell in the 7th. After retiring the next batter, Parnell allowed a home run to Vic Wertz to tie the game at three. The Tigers got two more hits before Ike Delock replaced Parnell to finish out the inning. Parnell allowed three runs over six and two-thirds innings.
Ted Williams Plays the Hero
With the game tied, Dom DiMaggio led off the seventh reaching on an error. Jimmy Piersall flew out to bring Ted Williams to the plate. This could possibly be his final at-bat before heading back to war. For that matter, no one knew what might happen over there; this could be the final at-bat of the great Ted Williams’ career. Facing Dizzy Trout, Williams hit one deep to right field and over the wall for the go-ahead two-run homer. That homer would also prove to be the game winner, as Ike Delock shut the Tigers down for the rest of the game to pick up the victory. Ted Williams, ever having the knack for heroics, hit the game-winning home run in his final at-bat before heading off to Korea.
Williams would go on to fly 39 combat missions in Korea. His plane was shot several times, and he had to make an emergency landing in a burning aircraft another time. He could have easily never made it home and had that home run be the final at-bat of his career. As things turned out, he still homered in the final at-bat of his career; it just came eight years later.
When Williams returned from Korea he was 35 years old and hadn’t played baseball in over a year. Not only that, he had fought a war! There were doubts that he would be any good once he returned. Of course, he proved those doubters wrong. In 91 at-bats during the 1953 season, Ted Williams batted .407 and hit 13 home runs! There is a reason he is the greatest hitter who ever lived.
Featured picture from MLB.com