Newspaper article International New York Times

A Return from a Long Layoff Can Be Tough ; Ted Williams's Numbers after War Service Unlikely Goal for Mets' Wright

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Return from a Long Layoff Can Be Tough ; Ted Williams's Numbers after War Service Unlikely Goal for Mets' Wright

Article excerpt

The history of older All-Star-caliber players coming back from long absences, especially those caused by injuries, includes few success stories.

It is one of the most famous numbers in sports. Ted Williams had a .406 batting average for the Boston Red Sox in 1941, which was the last time a batter reached the .400 mark for a full season. But technically it was not the last time Williams hit .400. It was not even the highest batting average of his career.

It may not have qualified for any awards, but Williams batted .407 in 1953. The catch is that he returned from military service in Korea on Aug. 6, so he had only 110 plate appearances for the season. With David Wright of the New York Mets expected back soon after a long absence because of spinal stenosis, Williams's rapid return to greatness remains the high mark for a player returning after an extended absence.

At the time of his return, Williams was 34 but clearly still in his prime. He had missed all but the first six games of the 1952 season as well (he hit .400 in those six games), but in the full seasons on either end of his military service, he led the American League in on-base and slugging percentage, and he continued as a highly productive player until his retirement in 1960, hitting a home run in his final at-bat at 42.

Unfortunately for the Mets, the history of older All-Star- caliber players coming back from long absences, especially those caused by injuries, includes few success stories.

Alex Rodriguez is surprisingly rebuilding his career with the Yankees after serving a yearlong suspension, but many players, like the Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, were never able to get back into the swing of things after missing a long period.

In 1930, Hornsby, then with the Chicago Cubs, missed 78 games with an ankle injury. Just 34 at the time of his return, Hornsby had batted .387 in 1928 and .380 in 1929, but in 14 games after returning to the team on Aug. 19, he proved incapable of playing full time and hit .250 while being used almost entirely as a pinch- hitter.

Hornsby had one more productive season, in 1931, but he spent the remainder of his career as an unpopular and mostly unsuccessful player-manager. …

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