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Not everybody was rooting for him. Al Simmons, who had hit .390 for Philadelphia in 1930, was finishing up his career as a coach for Connie Mack. Simmons stopped Ted along the baseline to assure him that he couldn’t have hit .400 with a paddle in Simmon’s day, and then offered to bet him that he wouldn’t hit .400 this year, either.

According to the mythology, Joe Cronin asked Ted if he wanted to sit out the doubleheader to protect what was technically a .400 average. “No,” Ted said. “I’m going to play. If I’m going to be a .400 hitter, I’m not going to slip in through the back door, and I’m not going to do it sitting on the bench.”

But numbers aren’t “technically” anything. Numbers are constants. It is one thing to round off a number during the season, for the sake of convenience, space, or clarity. It’s quite another to say that .39955 equals .400. You cannot turn less than .400 into .400 by official fiat. And you certainly cannot do it by journalistic convention.

Mythology aside, nobody tried to. The Associated Press report of the game stated that Ted’s average had been “trimmed from .4009 to .3996, with only two games left in which to re-enter the select class.” The Boston Globe reported that he had fallen below .400 for the first time since he had reached an even .400 on July 25, the day Grove won his three hundredth game. In the daily listing of the leading major-league hitters, Ted was posted at .3996.

Didn’t Cronin know that? Of course he did. When you read the journals of the day, you can see that the exchange quite probably took place a day or two earlier, at a time when Ted was hitting .401. “If he’s over .400 after two games, I may bench him,” Cronin was quoted as saying during the first off day in Philadelphia. “Whether he likes it or not.”

In other words, why take a risk in the second game of a double-header, in a ballpark in which the falling shadows of autumn made hitting notoriously difficult? Especially since daylight saving time would be coming to an end that very day, bringing on the shadows an hour earlier.

The umpire that day was Bill McGowan, who was universally regarded as the best umpire of his time. McGowan once told me that when Ted came to the plate for the first time, Frankie Hayes, the A’s catcher, said to him, “I wish you all the luck in the world, Ted, but Mr. Mack told us he’d run us all out of baseball if we let up on you. You’re going to have to earn it.” McGowan then stepped in front of Ted to sweep off the plate and said, “Well, Kid, you got to be loose to hit .400.”

What Frankie Hayes really said to him, according to Ted, was “Mr. Mack says we’re not to make it easy for you, Ted. But we’re going to pitch to you.” That does make more sense. Connie Mack had adopted the Fred Haney theory of pitching to Ted with men in scoring position. In their eight previous games against the Red Sox, A’s pitchers had walked him fourteen times.

The pitcher was Dick Fowler, a rookie right-hander who had been brought up late in the year. On his first time up, Ted hit a wicked drive down the first-base line for a base hit. “I was so nervous when I came to the plate that my hands were shaking. When I got the first hit I felt a little more confident, then I hit a home run over the right-field fence and from there on, wrrooofff.”

By the sixth inning, Porter Vaughan, another lefty, was pitching, and Ted greeted him with a bullet through the middle for his third straight hit.

The next inning, he came up with a man on first. Instead of having his first baseman, Bob Johnson, hold the runner on base, Connie Mack moved Johnson back on the grass. Since it was almost a rule of life by then that anything old Connie Mack did against Ted was going to backfire, this became the hit Joe Cronin remembered best of all. “Vaughn threw a perfect curve to the outside corner on the three-two count,” Cronin said later. “A pitch you’d hardly expect from a rookie. Anxious as Ted was to hit, you’d have expected him to be fooled. At best, he should have been out in front of the ball. He timed the pitch perfectly, though, and pulled it down the right-field line.” Right through the spot Johnson had vacated.

 
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