Sunday, March 4, 2012

108. Ted Williams: The Kid's First Year in San Diego (Redeux)

One of my favorite cards (and one of the early fan-favorites) I did early on was this one of Ted Williams as a San Diego Padre. Back then, over 2 years ago, my drawing style was much simpler than what it has evolved to over time and I always wanted to re-draw that old card of Ted in a more detailed style like I currently use. Well, that time has come and I coupled it with a more filled-out story about his first season as a pro ballplayer with San Diego back in 1936...

In the Spring of 1936 Ted Williams was just about to step onto the first rung of his life-long dream. His father was a professional photographer and part-time rummy while his mother was a soldier in the Salvation Army, tirelessly ministering to San Diego's boozers, hookers and single mothers. By the time Ted was a teen his Dad had left the picture, unable to put up with his wife's evangelical charity work and becoming more and more preoccupied with his drinking. His mom would disappear for long stretches being the Salvation Army's "Angel of Tijuana," and while Ted's older brother Danny used this time to hone his skills as a juvenile delinquent, the younger Williams concentrated on baseball and hitting in particular. Since his father's last name was Williams, no one knew that the youngster was actually half-Hispanic since his mother's family was from Mexico. This spared Williams from any distracting racism in his early baseball career.

While still a student at Herbert Hoover High the big league scouts from the Yankees and Cardinals came knocking but there was one problem: Ted’s over-protective mother thought he was too young to leave home. Ted and his Mom came to a compromise and they agreed to a tryout with the hometown San Diego Padres at the conclusion of the school year.

The Padres team Williams was trying to join for the 1936 season was led by former Chicago White Sox spitball pitcher Frank Shellenback. Frank was in his second year as a manager and his team was a nice blend of mature, seasoned ballplayers like Herm "old Folks" Pillette and Archie "Iron Man" Campbell and up-and-coming youngsters Bobbie Doerr and Vince DiMaggio. The Padres played in the Pacific Coast League, back in 1936 classified as a AA league, the equivalent of today's AAA, the highest level of the minor leagues.

The day of Williams' tryout, Shellenback was pitching batting practice and had the skinny kid step into the cage. According to Bobby Doerr, future teammate of Williams with Boston and now in his 2nd year with the Padres, the older San Diego players were miffed by this reed-thin kid taking up their precious time in batting practice. After Williams grooved a handful of Shellenback's offerings, including 2 or 3 that sailed out of the ballpark, the veterans' grumbling turned to wonder asking each other "who is this kid?"

Shellenback knew talent when he saw it and for $150 a month Ted Williams became a professional ballplayer.

Shellenback decided to use the new kid during a June 22nd exhibition game against a Navy-Marine Corps all-star team. In his only at-bat he singled and scored a run. A few days later, on June 27th, Williams got to pinch-hit during a regular season game against Sacramento. Facing Henry Pippen, the Kid went down on three strikes right down the pike - he didn't even swing.

On July 3rd Shellenback put the the kid into a game against the Los Angeles Angels as a relief pitcher and he immediately got shelled off the mound. At the plate however, the punk kid hit a double and a single in 2 at-bats. Williams was used sparingly by Shellenback but the veteran manager kept the youngster close on the bench, making sure he payed close attention to all aspects of the game. The Padres regular outfielders "Chick" Shiver, Vince DiMaggio and Syd Durst were backed up by Vance Wirthman but over the long season injuries to Durst and Wirthman enabled Williams to get some game experience but when each man returned the Kid went back to the bench. Shellenback for his part had no qualms about Williams' talent - he just wanted to bring him along slowly. Don't forget, the Pacific Coast League was essentially AAA level and Ted Williams was still in high school.

In the beginning of September, with the Padres competing for the pennant, left fielder "Chick" Shiver abruptly left the Padres to become the Georgia College football coach. Leaving in the middle of the night, Shellenback had no choice but to insert Williams into the regular lineup. In his first game as a regular Williams slugged a triple and double in 3 tries, fielded every ball that came his way flawlessly and was written up in the local paper for making 2 catches "hard enough to satisfy the most exacting test."

While many picked the Padres to quickly bow out of the pennant race, Williams' bat and glove work helped carry the team to the Pacific Coast League playoffs. In the 2 weeks he was the Padres starting left fielder the Kid hit .305 with 6 doubles, 2 triples and 7 RBI's. By the time San Diego faced the Oakland Oaks in the first round of the playoffs, Williams had moved up in the batting order from the 8th spot to 3rd. In the first game of the series Williams hit his first home run as a professional but the Padres eventually lost the playoffs to the Oaks in 5 games.

Didn't matter anyway, it was time for Ted to return to Hoover High for his senior year...

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