Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Williams Shift. Here's a nice story which includes a tip of the hat to the great sports writer, Shirley Povich for a sweet turn of the phrase:

Ted Williams stepped out of the batter's box and stared. Then he shook his head and laughed -- exuberantly, like he did everything else.

The Cleveland Indians, following the lead of shortstop and manager Lou Boudreau, had shifted into the strangest defense Williams had ever seen. Third baseman Ken Keltner was slightly to the right of second base, meaning there were no infielders on the left side of the diamond.

Where was everybody else? Boudreau had moved between second and first. Second baseman Dutch Meyer was in shallow right field. First baseman Jimmy Wasdell stationed himself behind the bag on the right-field foul line. Beyond them, the Indians had, in effect, one center fielder and two right fielders.

Thus, the "Williams Shift" was born in the third inning of the second game of a doubleheader on July 14, 1946, at Boston's Fenway Park.

The reason was obvious. At 27, the left-handed Williams was the best hitter in baseball, and an estimated 85 percent of his swats went to the right side. In the first game that day, he had slammed three homers and driven in eight runs. In his first-at bat in the nightcap, he ripped a bases-clearing double. Frustrated, Boudreau thought he might improve the Indians' chances of stopping Teddy Ballgame with an unorthodox defensive strategy.

Shirley Povich, the superb Washington sports columnist, described the moment most pungently: "At first the crowd was silent, not realizing what was happening. But then it was that the shift hit the fans."

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