Features 1999

Ted Williams and the Eephus Pitch

... memories of the 1946 All Star Game

by Virginia Hanley

Anticipation filled the air on that July day in 1946 as the crowd moved out of the subway entrances and parking lots and headed to Fenway Park. The war was over. Most of the men had returned from the various services. Everyone had a tremendous feeling of relief and happiness. We had won! It was in this mood of joyful anticipation that Boston prepared to welcome the elite of the baseball world to Fenway Park to play the 1946 All Star Game.

I had been a Red Sox fan all my life. The day my mother brought me home from the hospital in 1927 (I was two weeks old) my papa and I listened to the ballgame on the radio. I started going to the games with my two older brothers when I was 8 or 9 years old. I missed seeing Babe Ruth play but my brother Jimmy saw him play for the Boston Braves. I was there when Ted Williams broke in with the Sox along with Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr, and the two new pitchers, Tex Hughson and Dave Ferris.

The sun shone brightly on us as we walked down Landsdowne Street and entered Fenway Park. The hawkers were out in full force, selling caps and shirts and programs ("getcha programs here, can't tell the players without a program.") That was a laugh to us. WE didn't need any programs. Even if the players didn't wear numbers, everyone who sat in the bleachers could identify every player on the field. There were not as many pushcarts as there are nowadays and they did not have as large a selection of souvenirs but they were a basic part of the baseball experience.

I don't remember how we got the tickets. I suppose Jim had just gone in to Fenway Park and bought them. He had returned from the war in the spring of '46 and had not yet found a job. The seats were in the right field bleachers and filled up rapidly. The whole park was sold out; in those days I think the capacity was just under 14,000. Everyone was in a relaxed, happy mood. We had won the war and most of our favorite players had come home safely. The men in the stands had fought in the same battles as the athletes and shared memories that they never spoke of to us "civilians". There was a strong feeling of togetherness in the crowd, both on and off the field.

Among the pitchers on the National League team was a man named Luke Sewell. He was noted for throwing a particular pitch that he called his "eephus" pitch. I don't think he ever explained what "eephus" meant, probably nothing. He would stand on the mound and throw the ball straight up in the air. It would gradually curve over and float down to the plate. As the batter watched it, the ball would come down at an angle over the plate and it was very difficult to swing the bat at just the right moment to make contact with the ball.

Everyone was looking forward to seeing how Ted Williams would handle this strange pitch. Since Williams and Sewell  played in different leagues, they would not meet in a regular game during the season. He already held the record for the highest batting average, .406 in 1941, and every year he was in contention for the highest average for the season. It was late in the game when they finally faced each other. Both players wanted to prove they were equal to the challenge.

Williams settled himself in the batter's box. Sewell went into his stretch and threw the ball in the air. Williams watched as it began its descent toward the plate. The ball seemed to hang there forever. Then, he tensed his arms, swung the bat, and missed! The crowd groaned.  Both players relaxed, stretched a bit, and then settled down. Sewell threw the ball up. Williams waited, waited, squinted a bit harder and with a solid whack sent the ball flying out towards right field over our heads for a home run. No, we didn't catch it. We were too busy jumping up and down and screaming like madmen.

July 2, 1999


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