He was a long way from home, but it didn’t take long for 20-year-old Ted Williams of San Diego to prove he was not over his head. He was a great prospect, but fans who turned out on a chilly day in New York 81 seasons ago had no idea they were about to see the career launch of one of baseball’s all-time greats.
Only a couple of game programs from that afternoon at Yankee Stadium are known to have survived and one of them is about to hit the auction block.
Heritage Auctions will offer the non-descript scorecard that chronicles the history making debut in its upcoming Summer Platinum Night Auction. The unscored program may be humble in appearance, but it also marks the all too brief intersection of two monumental careers.
It took only a small amount of detective work to determine that the program was present the day Williams took the field as a major leaguer for the first time and recorded his first hit. While bad weather in New York kept the series to only one game, the original owner/fan made handwritten adjustments to indicate Jake Powell would start in left field over Tommy Henrich, whose name was pre-printed on the lineup page and Joe Gallagher would play right instead of George Selkirk. Those notes reflect the box score from the Yanks’ 2-0 victory that day.
More important is the presence of Lou Gehrig in the starting lineup at first base. By the time the Yankees would return to Boston later in the season, Gehrig had surrendered his role for good because of his ALS diagnosis. That April 20, 1939 game was the only one in which Williams and Gehrig played against each other. Williams’ double off Red Ruffing was the first of his career. The ailing Gehrig went 0-for-4.
Interestingly, there’s a photo online of Williams in the dugout that day, just moments before he took the field for the first time.
The program is in good shape, except for a split on the fragile spine.
Heritage is also offering the only known program from the 1941 season finale in which Williams refused to sit out to protect his .400 batting average, going 6-for-8 and finishing the season at .406.
Bidding will open August 7 and continue through August 29 and 30.