What might have been: Projecting 10 MLB interrupted careers

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 10: Players observe a moment of silence for deceased pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 prior to the Royals 2017 home opener against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on April 10, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 10: Players observe a moment of silence for deceased pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 prior to the Royals 2017 home opener against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on April 10, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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A statue of Ted Williams outside Fenway Park.. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
A statue of Ted Williams outside Fenway Park.. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Ted Williams

Possibly MLB’s most famous warrior, Williams lost all of 1943 through 1945 while serving as a Marine pilot during World War II, then reprising that assignment in Korea during much of 1952 and 1953.

The total lost time amounted to nearly five full seasons, the first three coming during Williams’ age 24, 25, and 26 years. He was 33 when recalled early in the 1952 season and 34 when mustered out in mid-season 1953.

Williams finished his career with 2,654 base hits, 521 home runs, and 1,839 RBIs. Could he have topped 3,000 hits and/or 600 home runs, and could he, like Gehrig, have made a run at the MLB RBI record?

In his four complete seasons prior to World War II Williams averaged 187 base hits. Had he played at a normal level, that projects to have added 561 hits to his total during the war. His hit production fell off in the four seasons prior to 1952, largely due to a crippling injury in 1950, but he still averaged 164.

If you add the 561 hits he projects to have gotten in the 1940s, plus the 328 he projects to have gotten during Korea, and subtract the 41 base hits he actually did accumulate during his partial 1952 and 1953 seasons, Williams’ career hit total rises from 2,614 to 3,502.

At the time of his retirement, that would have ranked Williams behind only Ty Cobb (4,189) and Tris Speaker on the hit list. Since then Pete Rose (4,256), Hank Aaron, and Stan Musial have surpassed what would have been Williams’ total, the projection leaving Ted sixth on the current hit list.

I’ll make the rest short: By the same process, Williams projects to have lost about 159 home runs 640 RBIs during the military portion of his career absences. (Injury-based absences are not factored in.) Adding those totals to his existing full-season numbers and subtracting his 1952 and 1953 partial season results, he winds up with 666 home runs (as opposed to the 512 he actually hit) and 2,442 RBIs rather than his actual 1,839.

Those numbers would rank him sixth in home runs (behind Bonds, Aaron, Ruth Rodriguez, and Pujols) and first in RBIs, 145 up on Aaron.

Those of you with good memories will recall that a few pages ago we also postulated that a healthy Gehrig would have projected out to 2,442 RBIs. That coincidence would have created a dead heat between Williams and Gehrig at the top of the MLB career RBI category.