Ted Williams fought in two wars during his Red Sox career. What did he sacrifice on the field?

American baseball player Ted Williams (1918 - 2002) of the Boston Red Sox serves in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War, circa 1952. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American baseball player Ted Williams (1918 - 2002) of the Boston Red Sox serves in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War, circa 1952. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) /
Boston Red Sox
BOSTON, MA – OCTOBER 09: A red seat marking the spot where Ted Williams hit the longest home run in Fenway Park history is seen as rain falls after game three of the American League Divison Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians was postponed due to weather at Fenway Park on October 9, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams may not just have been the greatest hitter who ever lived. He could have finished as the greatest player, period. But he sacrificed nearly 5 seasons of his Red Sox career to answer the call to serve his country. We may never know exactly what would have happened if he had not, but we can guess.

The Boston Red Sox were lucky enough to have, perhaps, the greatest hitter of all time don their uniform. No, young viewers, I’m not talking about David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez. I’m talking about Ted Williams, who played for the team from 1939 through 1960 amassing a triple slash line of .344/.482/.634 with 521 HR for a career OPS+ of 190. And here’s the kicker, Ted Williams gave up three years of his mid-twenties to serve in World War II as a Naval Aviator for the United States Marine Corps. He then lost the majority of the 1952 and 1953 seasons to a return to service in Korea.

What would have happened if he had not been drafted into service? It’s impossible to say for sure, but we can certainly take a guess. His service in WWII followed a pair of seasons in which he was the runner-up for the MVP. His he managed an OPS+ of 235 in 1941 and a 216 in 1942, blasting 37 and 36 home runs respectively. When he returned for the 1946 season, he hadn’t missed a beat. With a 215 OPS+ in his first season back, along with 38 HR he would win his first MVP award. The following season it was a 205 OPS+ with 32 HR and another runner-up for the award.

Let’s dig into the numbers.

His rWAR in those four seasons was 42. That comes out to a four-season average of 10.5 per season, or what Mike Trout is doing right now. Think about that for a second. He gave up three seasons of what would likely have been Mike Trout’s production. So let’s add those back in to his career, not to mention the missed home runs. Now, instead of 123.1 career rWAR, we add 31.5 and come to 154.6. With an average of 35.75 HR in the years surrounding his service, we can add 3 seasons back in and tack 107 more dingers onto his career total. Instead of 521 we have 628. Quite the difference, no?

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How about his Korean War service? In his shortened seasons we saw 14 HR and 2.3 WAR. In the two seasons preceding that service, he had 11.1 rWAR and 58 HR, though his 1950 season was shortened due to injury. We could extrapolate that out to a full year, but he was 31 at that point, and full seasons without injury would become rare for him going forward. So we will leave that total as is. The two seasons following his service produced 14.7 rWAR and 57 HR. Once again we take the 4-year average and come up with 6.45 rWAR and 28.75 per season. Replacing his 2 partial seasons with this data (not stacking it on top of) adds 10.6 rWAR and 43.5 HR (we’ll round up to 44) to his career totals.

How does this alter his place among the all-time greats?

Where does that leave us? 165.2 rWAR and 672 HR. That would move him up to 1st all-time in rWAR and 5th all-time in HR, inching past Willie Mays and his 660 blasts. What we have here is a credible argument that if it were not for his years of service to our country, Ted Williams might be considered not just the greatest hitter of all time, but perhaps the greatest player ever.

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Unfortunately, we’ll never know if those missed seasons would have been as good as the ones that surrounded them. But for Boston Red Sox fans, we’ll just say it’s certainly plausible.

Happy Memorial Day!