October 2, 2000

Four Hundred Diamond Anniversary
by Steve Lombardi

Next season will mark 60 years since Ted Williams’ .406 Batting Average (in 1941). No one has hit .400 on a big league diamond since that time. Ironically, "diamonds" are the prescribed gift for a 60th anniversary.

How long ago was that? Here’s a few points of perspective:

Without further validation of the point, 60 years is a LONG time - - and, in that time, NO ONE has managed to bat .400 for a season. Some have come "close." Witness the following chart of those 29 players who have batted better than .360 since 1941.

Player

Yr.

G

AB

H

BA

BB

IBB

SH

SF

Gm

HF4

Tony Gwynn

94

110

419

165

.394

48

16

1

5

7

2.6

George Brett

80

117

449

175

.390

58

16

0

7

45

4.6

Ted Williams

57

132

420

163

.388

119

33

0

2

22

5.0

Rod Carew

77

155

616

239

.388

69

15

1

5

6

7.4

Larry Walker

99

127

438

166

.379

57

8

0

6

35

9.2

Jeff Bagwell

94

110

400

147

.368

65

14

0

10

5

13.0

Andres Galarraga

93

120

470

174

.370

24

12

0

6

42

14.0

Stan Musial

48

155

611

230

.376

79

x

1

x

0

14.4

Nomar Garciaparra

00

140

529

197

.372

61

20

0

7

22

14.6

Ted Williams

48

137

509

188

.369

126

x

0

x

18

15.6

Todd Helton

00

160

580

216

.372

103

22

0

10

2

16.0

Rico Carty

70

136

478

175

.366

77

6

0

3

26

16.2

Larry Walker

98

130

454

165

.363

64

2

0

2

42

16.6

Mickey Mantle

57

144

474

173

.365

146

23

0

3

10

16.6

Tony Gwynn

97

149

592

220

.372

43

12

1

12

13

16.8

Tony Gwynn

95

135

535

197

.368

35

10

0

6

9

17.0

Tony Gwynn

87

157

589

218

.370

82

26

2

4

5

17.6

Larry Walker

97

153

568

208

.366

78

14

0

4

9

19.2

Harry Walker

47

140

513

186

.363

63

x

18

x

15

19.2

Wade Boggs

88

155

584

214

.366

125

18

0

7

7

19.6

Wade Boggs

87

147

551

200

.363

105

19

1

8

15

20.4

John Olerud

93

158

551

200

.363

114

33

0

7

4

20.4

Norm Cash

61

159

535

193

.361

124

19

2

2

4

21.0

Wade Boggs

85

161

653

240

.368

96

5

3

2

2

21.2

Mike Piazza

97

152

556

201

.362

69

11

0

5

10

21.4

Rod Carew

74

153

599

218

.364

74

9

13

3

10

21.6

Stan Musial

46

156

624

228

.365

73

x

2

x

0

21.6

Wade Boggs

83

153

582

210

.361

92

2

3

7

9

22.8

Joe Torre

71

161

634

230

.363

63

20

1

5

2

23.6

Key: Gm = Games Missed. HF4 = Hits needed above actual total, given At Bats actually accumulated, to reach a .400 Batting Average.

Some observations on those who came "really close":

Tony Gwynn 1994:
Sure, at first blush, you notice he was only three hits short of a .400 average. However, even if Gwynn HAD those hits, the Padres’ season was shortened (to 117 games), as was all of baseball, due to the 1994 Work Stoppage. Without question, had Tony batted .400 in 1994, it would have been "asterisk territory."

George Brett 1980:
Only 5 hits away from the magic mark. One could wonder about those 16 intentional walks and 7 sacrifice flies. That’s 23 At Bats which were wiped. Could they have helped? Not likely - Brett would have needed to go 14 for 23 in those appearances to bring his overall average to .400. Plus, while most are quick to note his .390 average, few are as rapid to mention that George missed 45 games that year. If a batter hits .400, and he only appears in 72% of his team’s games, is that good enough for you? It’s not here. (For the record, Ted Williams only missed 10 games in the season he reached .400.)

Ted Williams 1957:
If only 5 outs were changed to hits, the Splinter would have two .400 seasons instead of only one. The item that stands out the most from Ted’s ’57 season is the 119 walks - - 33 of them intentional (still one of the highest IBB season marks ever). Change 30 of those 119 base-on-balls to ABs, and have Williams go 17 for 30 in them, and then he hits .400 in 1957. Nearly impossible? Hey, this is Ted Williams we’re talking about here - anything is possible.

Rod Carew 1977:
This is an offensive season which does not receive enough credit. First of all, Carew had 616 ABs and only missed 6 games in the entire year. The American League Batting Average in 1977 was .266. So, Rod played almost every day, hit 122 points better than the league average (which was comprised using his own .388 mark as an element), and fell only 8 hits short of a .400 average. Secondly, another tidbit: 16 times, a conscious decision was made to take the bat out of his hands (15 IBB and one sacrifice hit). If ever there was a case where someone other than Ted Williams deserved to hit .400, this was the man and the year.

Larry Walker 1999:
Sure, ten hits shy of .400. But, like Brett in 1980, Walker missed too many games (35) in 1999. Seventy-eight percent of a season does not prove anything.

Jeff Bagwell 1994:
Again, sure, thirteen hits short. But, again, like Gwynn in the same season, because of the Work Stoppage, the season was cut by 29%. Asterisk stuff.

Andres Galarraga 1993:
See Brett ’80 and Walker ’99. The Big Cat missed 42 games in ’93. Not a true full season. One note: He was trying for it: 14 hits away and he only took 24 walks all season - HALF OF THEM intentional.

Stan Musial & Ted Williams 1948:
The Man missed by 15 hits and The Kid missed by 16 safeties. Musial played a full year (missing no games) and Williams missed 18 games. Note Williams walked 126 times in 1948. That’s an average of close to one BB per game played. Imagine what could have been had he taken a few extra hacks in lieu of passes?

Todd Helton & Nomar Garciaparra 2000:
Nomar, on average, missed about one game per week, and received about one intentional pass per week. He fell 15 hits away from .400 in the games he played. One could guess that he missed about 100 At Bats (between time off and IBB) - but, he would have needed to bat .520 in those extra 100 ABs to get a .400 on the season. Not likely. Todd had the same Batting Average as Garciaparra (.372) - but he did it while playing in 20 more games. In fact, Helton deserves some special mention for having posted the highest post-1941 average for anyone appearing in more than 155 games in a season. (Most of those that had a higher post-1941 average than Todd only played in about 130 games in the year they reached the mark.) Perhaps Helton should have sat against those really tough lefties this year? Nonetheless, he did not, and he would have needed 16 more hits in 2000 for a .400 average.

In the other Post-1941 "Big Average" seasons, everyone fell between 17 and 24 hits short of a .400 average. If that does not sound like much of a miss, you are mistaken. Use the following example:

Joe Player has 550 At Bats and 200 hits. That is a Batting Average of .364 and good ol’ Joe fell 20 hits shy of a .400 mark.

Turning 20 outs into hits is more difficult a leap of faith than switching ten ABs from outs to hits. A hitter may easily get robbed of 10 hits in a full season - great plays, bad scoring, etc. But, twenty? It’s doubtful that many things go against a batter 20 times in a season - - that would be almost once a week.

If you agree, perhaps the next assumption may be to give him the 20 hits with some ABs in which to achieve them. What would be required?

Go back to Joe Player. Give him more 20 hits in 50 At Bats (a .400 pace in itself). That would bump his hit total to 220 and his ABs to 600. And his average? It only increases from .364 to .367. See the point here? (He would have needed 40 hits in 50 At Bats to make up for the "weight" difference.)

A few notes on the "17 to 24 hits short" group:

Will ANYONE ever finish a season with a .400 average again? Without replying with a definitive "yes" or "no," a conditional answer must suffice. Perhaps, yes, someone may bat .400 - and, given the evidence available, one can surmise the following:

  1. It will not be an easy feat.
  2. More than likely, the batter whom accomplishes the task will be:
    • a left-handed hitter, whom
    • plays his home games in a ballpark conducive to high Batting Averages, and whom
    • probably will miss anywhere from 10 to 30+ games during the season.

In conclusion, if, by chance, some right-handed batter plays 155+ games one year, toils for a team in a pitcher-friendly park, and manages to bat .400 for a season, well……….just build the guy a statue on the spot. He deserves it.

Return to Ruminations Main Menu