In his first four big league seasons, Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, won two batting titles, two RBI titles, two home run crowns and was the 1942 American League Triple Crown winner.
But it wasn’t until his fifth season – when he failed to lead the league in any of the Triple Crown categories – that Williams was named the AL Most Valuable Player.
Sixty-six years ago this week – on Nov. 14 1946 – Williams was named the AL MVP. The Red Sox slugger led Boston to its first AL pennant in 28 years by hitting .342 with 38 homers and 123 RBI and league-leading totals in runs (142), total bases (343) and walks (156).
“If he was leading off an inning, he couldn’t wait to grab his bat and get up to the plate to watch the pitcher take his warm-up throws,” said Mickey Vernon, the Senators first baseman who led the AL with a .353 batting average in 1946 and later a teammate of Williams in Boston. “Or if he was the hitter and they were changing pitchers, he would move up to watch the new pitcher warm up, to see what the ball was doing. He was always studying.”
Williams’ avowed goal was to eventually be known as the greatest hitter who ever lived. By 1946, he was well on the way to that level – despite missing three full seasons from 1943-45 while serving in the Marines.
Williams had finished second in the MVP vote in both 1941 (the year he hit .406) and 1942 (when he won the Triple Crown). He would finish second in the MVP vote again in 1947 – again winning the Triple Crown.
He won his second MVP in 1949 when he missed out on a third Triple Crown by the slimmest of margins, winning the home run and RBI titles but falling short of George Kell in the race for the batting title by .0002 percentage points.
In 1946, Williams edged Detroit’s Hal Newhouser – who was 26-9 with a 1.94 earned-run average – by 27 votes in the MVP race. Newhouser had won the MVP Award in both 1944 and 1945.
Williams’ 1946 AL MVP came in the only season his Red Sox finished on top of the American League.
The Splendid Splinter finished his career with 521 home runs, 1,839 RBI and a .344 batting average, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1966.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum