Once upon a diamond there was a baseball season like n other. The year was 1941. Many of the men who played major-league baseball remember it as a season of utterly wonderful baseball.
Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games; Ted Williams batted .406 and won the All-Star Game for the American League with a monstrous three-run home run in the ninth.
The Brooklyn Dodgers won the National League pennant but lost to the New York Yankees, four games to one, partly because catcher Mickey Owen muffed a third strike with two out that allowed New York to rally to win the fourth game.
If there's a more splendid flashback, though, than any other of 1941 it surely has to be the picture of young Williams -- "Teddy Ballgame" -- laughing, clapping his hands and leaping like a young colt as he scampered around the bases after his ninth-inning home run off Claude Passeau in the All-Star Game.
When this year's stars meet tonight in Toronto, it will have been 50 years since that dramatic feat.
"It was the kind of thing a boy dreams about," said Williams, 72, who lives in Citrus Hills, Fla. "Halfway down to first base, seeing the ball was going out, I stopped running and started leaping and jumping and clapping my hands, and I was just so happy, I laughed out loud."
To this day, Williams said, "I've never been so happy in all my life, and I've never seen so many happy guys. They carried me off the field, DiMaggio and Bob Feller . . . It was a wonderful, wonderful day for me."
Williams always loved hitting at Briggs Stadium, now Tiger Stadium. He still enjoys taking an imaginary stance, digging in at the plate to face Passeau at Detroit 50 years ago. "Be quick, be quick," he tells himself, just as he did before 54,674 fans on July 8, 1941.
Even though Williams was an American Leaguer, he knew all about Passeau of the Chicago Cubs. He knew Passeau was a tough pitcher and so much a competitor that he wasn't about to walk him in a tough situation. Passeau, who lives in Lucedale, Miss., had struck out Williams in the eighth inning of the All-Star Game and was going after him again -- man-to-man.
Williams said he wasn't sure when he hit the ball that it would get out of the park.
"I had pulled the ball to rightfield, no doubt about that, but I was afraid I hadn't gotten enough of the bat on it. But gee, it just kept going, up, up, way up into the rightfield stands."
Sid Hudson, 76, says he remembers the moment and the whole 1941 season. Hudson, who played for the Washington Senators, pitched the seventh inning of the game and was nicked for an opposite-field double by Enos Slaughter and a home run by Arky Vaughan. "I was nervous, incredibly nervous," Hudson said from his home in Waco, Texas. "But what a thrill just being there."
Being part of the cast at the 1941 All-Star Game, Hudson said, was being a big part of baseball history. The dugouts overflowed with all-time baseball greats: Williams, DiMaggio, Feller, Joe Cronin, Lou Boudreau, Jimmie Foxx, Bill Dickey and Bobby Doerr for the American League; Mel Ott, Johnny Mize, Al Lopez, Ducky Medwick, Slaughter and Vaughan for the National. Vaughan hit two home runs in a losing cause.
"The All-Star Game was everything it could be -- just as the season was," Hudson said. "Imagine getting to start two games against the Yankees that year when DiMaggio was on his 56-game hitting streak.
"I had some real success against Joe and Ted that year. Joe was 1-for-6 against me in the two games during his streak. He got his hit in the second one against a reliever named Arnold Anderson. I pitched him close to the fists. Like everyone else, I wanted to be the guy to stop him."
Hudson, a righthander, said he had more worries with Williams because Ted was a lefthanded hitter. "Again, I tried to stay in on his fists. But he was so quick, and he had the great eye."
Years later, Hudson and Williams were teammates on the Red Sox. "He didn't change much," Hudson said. "He's always been quite a guy. A real talker. God, did he love to hit, and I still see him laughing and grinning after hitting that home run in the 1941 All-Star Game. Who could forget that?"
Memories. Old clips. Nostalgia.