On this day in Latinx history: Boston’s Ted Williams hits 521st and final home run
Hall of Famer kept his Mexican heritage a secret until later in life
With one out and no one on in the bottom of the eighth inning, Ted Williams walked into the batter’s box on Sept. 28, 1960, and began to wave his bat. But he and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jack Fisher were forced to wait until umpire Ed Hurley gave them the signal to proceed.
Play was suspended because fans were on their feet, cheering loudly for several minutes as they prepared for Williams’ final at-bat.
After being walked in the first inning, flying out deep to center in the third and sending Al Pilarcik to the right-field fence for a long fly ball in the fifth, this was the future Hall of Famer’s last chance to get a hit before retiring from the Boston Red Sox after the game.
Fisher unleashed a 1-1 pitch to Williams, who sent the ball more than 420 feet into right-center field and the Red Sox bullpen. The 42-year-old’s long ball gave Boston a 4-3 lead, and the team went on to beat the visitors 5-4.
As Williams rounded the bases, the 10,454 fans who came out despite the fog and the possibility of rain began to chant, “We want Ted.” Williams finished his career at No. 3 on major league baseball’s home run chart behind Babe Ruth (714) and Jimmie Foxx (534), and he also was the last big leaguer to hit .400 or better in a season (.406 in 1941).
It was Williams’ 29th homer and his 72nd RBI in 310 at-bats that year. He hit .316 in 113 games in his final season. But even with the outpouring of applause, as well as a fan who ran onto the field to hug Williams, the San Diego native and Mexican-American stayed true to form and didn’t acknowledge the fans’ ovation or tip his cap, and most certainly didn’t do a curtain call.
“I made up my mind in my second year never to tip my hat to the fans,” Williams told The Associated Press on Jan. 21, 1966. “I’ll never forget that game. I struck out and followed with an error in the field. Then I heard it. They really gave it to me good. When I came into the dugout, I swore I’d never again tip my hat, no matter how much I was cheered.”
Williams was well-aware that had his Mexican heritage been known, he would’ve been treated far worse in Boston — if he was given an opportunity to play in the first place.
Unlike African-Americans, who were barred from the majors until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, Latino players were not explicitly banned. But preference was definitely given to those who could pass as white. Williams was also advised by Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins not to acknowledge his Mexican family members.
The son of a white father and a Mexican-American mother, Williams opened up about his heritage in his 1969 autobiography, My Turn At Bat.
“Her maiden name was Venzor, she was part Mexican and part French, and that’s fate for you; if I had my mother’s name,” he said, “there is no doubt that I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in Southern California.”
Former Boston Globe editor Ben Bradlee Jr. detailed several instances in which Williams blew off or ignored his family in his book, The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams.
In late 1939, after Ted’s sensational rookie season with the Red Sox, he returned home to San Diego for a visit, the conquering hero. But a gaggle of his relatives on the Mexican side of his family gathered to meet him at the train station. Ted beat a hasty retreat after spotting the ragtag group from afar. According to one of Ted’s relatives who was there, Williams took “one look at this big group of Mexicans, and he says, ‘Oh, my goodness, my career is down the drain if I’m seen with these people,’ and he walks away.
Several years later, a host of Venzors traveled to Los Angeles to watch Ted and the Red Sox play an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Angels, then a Pacific Coast League team. When the Venzors hollered and waved at him from the stands, Ted made a motion to indicate that he would see them later, but he never did. “All the family went to root him on and he didn’t have the guts to come over and say hi to them,” said Ted’s cousin Rosalie Larson.
While he didn’t discuss his Latino heritage until much later in life, Williams used his 1966 Hall of Fame speech to chide the hall for not recognizing black players.
“I hope that someday the names of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in some way could be added as a symbol of the great Negro players that are not here only because they were not given the chance,” Williams told the crowd. In that same speech, Williams complimented Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who made sure Boston was the last team to integrate.
Williams died at 83 in 2002.