Williams Hit Milestone Home Run at Cleveland Stadium

The Red Sox were in the middle of disarray when they came to Cleveland in June 1960 for a four-game series.

The Sox were mired in last place, and had just made a change at manager. Billy Jurges went on leave for health reasons, and coach Del Baker stepped in as an interim manager. Jurges had every intention of coming back, but general manager Bucky Harris removed him in favor of Pinky Higgins on June 12 – five days before the Red Sox arrived in Cleveland.

There was even talk that Ted Williams would take over the team. Williams was essentially taking a victory lap in 1960, and wasn’t anticipated to play more than 100 games. He had a terrible season in 1959, batting a dreadful .254, and a man with his pride – who wanted to be declared the greatest hitter that ever lived – couldn’t end his career like that. But a couple weeks prior to the Indians series, he had even pondered quitting for the year. Now, he was on the verge of a milestone home run.

Williams was listed a special instructor in spring training as well as a player, and when Jurges took his leave of absence, it was suggested that Williams, a favorite of team owner Tom Yawkey, would slide into managerial duties. “For the thousandth time,” Williams told Plain Dealer sportswriter Hal Lebovitz, “I have no ambition to be a manager.” (Ultimately, he did become a manager, of the Washington Senators in 1969).

But he was content to play when the Red Sox took on the Indians at Cleveland Stadium 55 years ago today, June 17, 1960 – and showed he still had a little left in the tank.

In the top of the third, with the score tied at 1 and a man on base, Williams came up to face rookie pitcher Wynn Hawkins for the second time. Hawkins worked the count to 1-and-2, but the next pitch was one that Williams liked enough to swing – and he put it over the left field fence for his eighth home run of the season (he’d only hit 10 all of the previous season) and 500th of his career.

Williams had become the fourth person to hit 500 home runs in a career, behind Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx  and Mel Ott. Williams and Foxx were Red Sox teammates when Foxx hit the milestone home run at Shibe Park in Philadelphia in 1940, and Williams had become the second player to reach the milestone in Cleveland (Ruth’s 500th came at League Park in 1929).

“Nobody is as grateful as I am to have played as long as I have,” Williams said after the game. “I’ve been lucky.” Although Williams did say somewhat ruefully that he wished it had been his 600th home run – a distinct possibility had not service in World War II and Korea taken three full seasons and parts of two others.

Williams said he wanted to sit out the game, but manager Pinky Higgins said, “Play today, and I’ll keep you out tomorrow.” He said he was feeling stiff, and thought he saw a better pitch in his first at-bat, but couldn’t get around on it.

The Indians lost to the Red Sox 3-1 – Williams’ home run had made the difference. And Williams got no. 501 in the first half of a doubleheader in Cleveland. All told, he hit another 21 home runs that year, including a game in Cleveland in August where he hit two out – and in the final at-bat of his career, at the home finale at Fenway Park on Sept. 28, 1960.

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