Arguably the greatest pure hitter of all time, Theodore Samuel “Ted” Williams played 21 seasons in left field for Boston, and is widely regarded as the greatest Red Sox baseball player ever to put on a uniform.

Williams, who was later nicknamed “Teddy Ballgame” or “The Splendid Splinter,” grew up in San Diego, California, and debuted for the Red Sox in 1939 at the age of 20. There is only one trading card from Williams’ rookie season. That Play Ball card, which shows Williams centered in the frame with his eyes focused on the camera while finishing his prototypical swing, is extremely collectible.

A 16-time All Star and two-time American League Most Valuable Player (MVP), Williams quickly established himself as one of baseball’s most feared hitters. In just his third season, Williams had one of the best years in baseball history, hitting .406 with a league-leading 37 homeruns. In fact, Williams’ 1941 season marks the last time a Major League Baseball player batted over .400, which is one reason why his 1941 Play Ball card is one of the most sought-after pieces of baseball memorabilia.

Unfortunately for Williams, his career statistics were not as impressive as they might have been because he missed all or part of five seasons serving as a pilot in the Marine Corps during both World War II and the Korean War. Had he played those five seasons, Williams may have challenged Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homeruns. Instead, he had to settle for 521, but Williams retired with the highest on-base percentage of all time (.483) and the highest batting average (.344) of a player to hit 500 or more homers.

After Williams’ service in World War II, Leaf Gum was the first candy company to release a Williams baseball card—it was part of Leaf’s 1948-1949 set. The brightly colored card shows a stoic Williams in a gray-and-blue flannel uniform set against a red background. It is tough to find this card in high-grade because this particular Leaf set was full of poorly centered cards and had bad print quality. As it turned out, this was the last Williams card Leaf would make—by 1950 the company had been bullied out of the market by Topps and Bowman.

Williams was not included in Bowman’s first two sets of baseball cards in 1948 and 1949, but he was pictured in the 1950 Bowman set when the company upgraded its cards to full color. As was the case with many Williams cards, the Bowman depicted Williams finishing his near-perfect swing, his Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville Slugger bat strewn over his right shoulder.

Williams continued to star for Boston until his retirement in 1960—he went out in style, becoming one of the only players to hit a homerun in his last Major League at-bat. The hi...

Throughout his career Williams was continually compared to New York Yankees’ outfielder Joe DiMaggio as the two starred for rival teams. While they were playing, fans joked that they should be traded for each other because Williams, who hit left-handed, would thrive with the short right field fence at Yankee Stadium, and DiMaggio, who hit right-handed, would excel with Fenway Park’s short porch in left field. In fact, a trade almost happened.

Because of this rivalry, autographed pictures of Williams and DiMaggio together, as well as other memorabilia such as autographed bats of the two players, are very popular items. Short of that iconic object, some collectors have sought autographed copies of the July 8, 1950 edition of “TV Guide,” which featured the pair on the cover.

While Williams’ individual statistics may trump those of DiMaggio, the one thing missing from Williams’ career was a World Series championship, a feat DiMaggio accomplished nine times. Unfortunately Williams passed away in 2002, just two years before his Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years.

Williams’ collectibles continue to be some of the most popular baseball artifacts around, and the most popular among retired Red Sox. In addition to trading cards, other prized items are Williams statues, autographed baseballs and bats, and game-used bats, which are noticeably lighter in weight than many other bats—Williams felt that a light bat was key to his quick, compact swing.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Old Cardboard

Old Cardboard

Check out this well-organized collection of 500 sets of baseball cards, each over 50 years old. Browsable by type a… [read review or visit site]

The Baseball Card Blog

The Baseball Card Blog

Ben Henry's lively vintage baseball card blog, started in January 2006, offers hundreds of great posts on (and pict… [read review or visit site]

Cardboard Junkie

Cardboard Junkie

Dave Campbell's in-depth blog on old baseball (and some football) cards lives up to it's motto: 'do cards, not drug… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Roll up your socks for this Library of Congress collection showcasing hundreds of players on colorful early basebal… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame

A home run for baseball collectors, this site features special online exhibits, ranging from a baseball-uniforms da… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1939 Play Ball Ted Williams Rookie Rc #92 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)Mickey Mantle,joe Dimaggio,ted Williams Autographed Baseball..bobby Brown Ball..Ted Williams Signed / Autographed Bobby Brown Baseball Authenticity GuaranteedTed Williams 1959 Fleer Buyback Authentic On Card Autograph Auto #1/1 D96251954 Topps Ted Williams #1 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1941 Play Ball Ted Williams #14 Psa 5.5 Ex+ (pwcc)1954 Topps Ted Williams #250 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1954 Topps Ted Williams #1 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)1955 Topps Ted Williams Baseball Card #2 **near Mint To Mint** Outstanding Wow1954 Topps Ted Williams #1 Sgc 8.5/92 Nm-mt+ (pwcc)Ted Williams Autographed Baseball Official American League Auto Autograph No Coa2004 Prime Cuts Ted Williams Quad Game Used Worn Jersey Bat Jacket Relic 21/251957 Topps Ted Williams Baseball Card #1 *****beautiful Card***** Wow!!1954 Topps Ted Williams Auto #250 Sgc Auth (pwcc)Mickey Mantle Ted Williams Signed 8x10 Photo Autographed Gfa Hof Yankees Red Sox1951 Bowman Ted Williams #165 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1954 Bowman Ted Williams #66 Gai 4 Vgex (pwcc)Ted Williams 2014 Topps Triple Threads Ttrltw Bat Relic Serial 13/27 Red Sox Hof1954 Bowman 66 Ted Williams Psa 5 Rare Short Print500 Home Run Club Signed Baseball Autographed Ted Williams Micky MantleTed Williams Signed / Autographed Inscribed 1936 Litho Authenticity GuaranteedTed Williams Single Signed Oal Brown Baseball Upper Deck Sticker1940 Playball Ted Williams #27- Scarce- No ReserveBanty Red Goudey R319 Style "1941" Ted Williams & Joe Dimaggio, Young RivalsSigned Baseballs ~ Mickey Mantle & Ted Williams 2 Balls With CoaMickey Mantle/ted Williams/joe Dimaggio/ Musial Autographed 8x10 Photo CertifiedHank Aaron Mickey Mantle Ted Williams 2015 Leaf Sport Kings Three Kings JerseyFrank Robinson /mickey Mantle / Ted Williams Signed 8x10 Photo... Certified1954 And 1957 Topps Ted Williams Baseball Cards- Very Popular- No ReserveMickey Mantle / Ted Williams Autographed 8x10 Photo..... Certified1956 Topps Ted Williams White Back #5 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)1950 Bowman Baseball-#98 Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox Hof, Sgc 60 Ex 5 1955 Topps Ted Williams #2 Psa 5 Boston Red Sox500 Home Run Club Mickey Mantle Ted Williams Autographed Photo Coa 11 Hof1959 Fleer Baseball Ted Williams #2 Ted's Idol Babe Ruth Psa 8 CenteredRoger Staubach 1994 Ted Williams Co Auto #d /200 Dallas Sp Autograph HofTed Williams 1957 Topps #1 Bv $350Ted Williams Mickey Mantle Auto Signed 16x20 Photo W/coa Beautiful Autograph1954 Topps Ted Williams #1 Sgc Auth (pwcc)1956 Topps Ted Williams #5 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)1951 Bowman Card Lot - Yogi Berra, Ted Williams & More1955 Topps Ted Williams #2 Psa 4 Vgex (pwcc)1957 Topps Set Break #1 Ted Williams Exmt/exmint+ 45598bRed Sox Quad Jersey Patch Bat /25 $200+ Ted Williams Jimmie Foxx Dimaggio Cronin1957 Topps Baseball #1 Ted Williams Card Boston Red Sox Fair+Ted Williams / Stan Musial Autographed 8x10 Photo... Certified1959 Fleer Ted Williams #69 Psa Grade 91959 Fleer Ted Williams #74 Psa Grade 91951 Bowman 165 Ted Williams Graded Mickey Mantle/ Joe Dimaggio / Ted Williams Signed 8x10 Photo....certifiedTed Williams 1951 Bowman #165 Bv $5001955 Topps Baseball #2 Ted Williams Card Boston Red Sox Fair+1958 Topps Set Break # 1 Ted Williams Wrinkle R248051954 Topps Ted Williams Boston Red Sox #1 Baseball Card Ted Williams Roberto Clemente Fox 2015 National Treasures Triple Jersey Bat /251954 Topps Baseball #250 Ted Williams Card Boston Red Sox Fair+2006 Ted Williams Joe Dimaggio Stan Musial Ud Epic Triple Materials #16/25 Bgs 9Washington Senators Ted Williams Wool Mitchell Ness Jersey 46 Medium M VhtfTed Williams 1/1 Non Auto Relic Card Jersey Bat Topps Sterling Hof With Hologram1959 Fleer Ted Williams 9 Cards Excellent Sharp Corners