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Biggest Comebacks: Ted Williams twice returns to Red Sox after military service

Krystle Boyajian
August 29, 2018 - 5:00 pm

Ted Williams famously made not one, but two great comebacks during his illustrious career, after serving in World War II for three years and then again after serving in the Korean War for a year.

By 1942, the then-24-year-old Williams had already led baseball in home runs twice, hit .406 in a season, and won the Triple Crown in another. But then World War II interrupted his career, as he went on active duty in 1943 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marines as a Naval Aviator a year later. Williams served as a flight instructor and was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Pacific War ended in August 1945.

Williams came back to the Red Sox for the 1946 season and picked up right where he left off four years earlier, hitting .342 with 38 home runs and 123 RBIs, winning his first MVP Award, and leading the Red Sox to the World Series, where they ultimately fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. 

In 1947, Williams joined Rogers Hornsby as one of just two players to ever win the Triple Crown twice. In 1949, he won his second MVP Award with a career-high 43 home runs and 159 RBIs.

And then in 1952, the then-33-year-old’s already Hall of Fame-worthy career was disrupted once again when he was called from a list of reserves to serve on active duty in the Korean War. Williams played just six games that season before heading off for training after a special “Ted Williams Day” sendoff at Fenway Park.

Instead of just playing on a service baseball team and not going into war zones, Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea. In February 1953, he was flying as part of a 35-plane raid when his plane was hit by North Korean forces and he was forced to make an unplanned landing at a U.S. Air Force airfield. Williams’ plane burst into flames soon after he landed and he was awarded the Air Medal with Gold Stars for his actions. A few months later, Williams was discharged due to pneumonia and an inner ear infection.

Williams came back to the Red Sox in August 1953, and fittingly hit a home run in his first game back. He went on to hit .407 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in 37 games for the rest of the season.

Williams continued to be one of the game’s best hitters into his 40s, including winning the batting title in 1957 and 1958 in his age 38 and 39 seasons, before retiring in 1960 after hitting a home run in his final career at bat.

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