"The Kid," "The Splendid Splinter," "Teddy Ballgame," "The Thumper," "Mr. Red Sox", "Toothpick Ted"--Ted Williams had many nicknames but, perhaps, none more fitting than, "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived." The legend was one of the first professional baseball players to treat the art of hitting like a legitimate science.
The 19-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP was the last player to hit over .400. His .551 career OBP was a record that lasted 61 years. He has the highest batting average for any member of the 500 Home Run Club (.344). In addition to being enshrined in Cooperstown in 1966, Williams was also named a member of Major League Baseball's All-Century team.
Had his patriotic call of duty to serve his country not interrupted the prime of his playing career, Williams might have been called the greatest player of all-time. Sacrificing five years of his baseball career to serve as a Naval Pilot in both World War II and the Korean War, Williams was clearly a man a principle who put his duty to country before his own personal dreams and career.
In 1966, the year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, the country was reeling in a period of unrest quite contrary to the unified principles he had fought for some two decades earlier. The height of the Civil Rights era and the Vietnam War saw a country divided yet once again standing on his principles, Ted Williams included this statement in his induction speech. "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."
Williams had a number of cards issued during the first years of his playing career, most notably the 1939 Play Ball and the World Wide Gum Goudey Premiums. The Canadian Goudey Premium cards, issued in 1939, in particular are among the rarest of all 1930s gum issues and include an even rarer, trimmed variant. Designated in the American Card Catalogue as V351, this set is so rare that many 1930s gum-card collectors have never seen them. They can easily be mistaken for R303 Goudey premiums. This is well articulated by Robert Edwards of REA Auctions, "Although closely related to the American Goudey R303 premium issue, V351 World Wide Gum premiums are substantially smaller than their American counterparts, measuring only 4 x 5-5/8 inches.
Williams' first Topps card was not printed until 1954, where he is both the first and last player in the set. In 1958, the then fledgling Fleer Gum Company, desperate to find a way to compete against Topps, lured Williams away for the 1959 season with a lucrative and exclusive contract. The 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set, at one time, contained some of the most counterfeited cards the hobby has ever known.
Ted Williams Rookie Cards
The 1939 Play Ball baseball card #92 is Williams' definitive rookie card and is highly sought after in any condition. The black and white card features a photograph of Williams having just followed through on his legendary swing. The full-body photograph is a contrast to other cards of the set and era that relied heavily on color portraits and/or head shots, making this card truly distinct. The 1939 Play Ball set consists of 161 cards, including fellow Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. Little did the writers of the card's back know what a gifted talent Williams would become, writing this underwhelming statement, "Williams has a great future."