"A man has to have goals -- for a day, for a lifetime -- and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"
They still say that, of course, and right now the conversation is picking up again.
There he is in 1941, a boyish and lanky 22-year-old in a Red Sox uniform, taking a splendid cut at a 2-1 belt-high fastball from National League reliever Claude Passeau, crashing it into the upper right-field stands at Briggs Stadium in Detroit and dancing around the bases.
Fans in 2011 are watching it over and over, marveling at the black-and-white footage, seeing a clip narrated by Bob Costas and keeping it in play. That three-run walk-off homer by a joyous Williams has been voted by fans into the final four in Major League Baseball's Midsummer Classics bracket competition at MLB.com/moments, a determination of the best All-Star memory since the inception of the event in 1933.
"Ted Williams, arguably the best hitter the game has ever seen, proves it with a walk-off home run to win the game," said Mitch Williams, who along fellow MLB Network analysts Al Leiter and Harold Reynolds decided on the original 16 candidates. "That, people, is a moment."
Will it be the moment? The semifinal round is a major challenge, because 1941's finish is up against Cal Ripken's 2001 MVP swan song performance. You can vote as many times as you want on that matchup until July 2, and then the winner will move to the finals against either Pete Rose barreling over Ray Fosse at the plate in 1970 or Carl Hubbell's 1934 strikeout parade against five future Hall of Famers.
So far, Teddy Ballgame is having no problem against recent contenders in this endeavor. The first round was an easy victory over the 2008 15-inning classic at Yankee Stadium. In the second round, a dream choice for Williams fans, 1941 won out over '99, when Williams was introduced at Fenway Park during that mesmerizing pregame All-Century Greats ceremony.
Should 1941 advance to the finals, Williams will have plowed through the three most recent candidates of the 16 Midsummer Classics.
The final matchup will be announced on July 2, and then the fans' decision as the ultimate Midsummer Classic will be announced on FOX during the July 12 All-Star Game at Chase Field in Phoenix. That will be the 82nd such event, and the objective here is to determine which of the previous 81 dating back to 1933 was most legendary and worthy of standing alone.
So far, this exercise is demonstrating that the fabled Summer of '41 may have been even better historically than anyone thought.
Already the stuff of legend, the year Joe DiMaggio hit in a record 56 consecutive games and Williams became the last man to bat .400 (.406), 1941 is poised to perhaps feature the best All-Star memory of them all.
Williams came into that event batting .405 for the Red Sox. In the bottom of the ninth, Passeau, representing the Cubs, was on the mound for the third inning in a row, protecting a 5-3 lead. Frankie Hayes led off with a popout to second. Ken Keltner came off the bench and singled to short, and Joe Gordon moved him to second with a single to right. Passeau then walked Cecil Travis, which seems more egregious with today's hindsight.
It meant facing DiMaggio with the bases loaded and Williams on deck.
To his credit Passeau did his job, inducing an apparent tailor-made and game-ending double play. DiMaggio hit it to shortstop Eddie Miller, representing the Boston Braves. He flipped to second baseman Billy Herman, who had been traded from the Cubs to the Dodgers two months earlier. Herman sailed his throw to first wide, though, and DiMaggio was safe on a forceout. Keltner scored, and that brought up Williams with men at the corners.
The right-hander grooved a 2-1 pitch and Williams unloaded perfectly, sending it over the wall. He came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth at Detroit, and with two on and the AL trailing by one, he blasted a three-run shot to right and practically flew around the bases.
"I've never been so happy," said Williams, who died in 2002. "Halfway down to first, seeing that ball going out, I stopped running and started leaping and jumping and clapping my hands, and I was so happy I laughed out loud."
It has stood the test of time, and people are still talking about Williams hitting a baseball. One of the interesting things about this is that only five years after his walk-off, Williams was back from World War II and creating All-Star magic. In that 1946 game, he went 4-for-4 and hit Rip Sewell's 25-foot-arcing "eephus" pitch for a homer.
But you get only one Williams choice at this point. It's 1941. Whether fans vote it into the final round, and perhaps as the best all-time All-Star memory, remains to be seen. Fans can vote as many times as they want at MLB.com/moments.
"Like all of our jewel events, the Midsummer Classic has produced memories for fans for over 75 years," said Tim Brosnan, MLB executive vice president, business. "This program is intended to refresh those memories and celebrate this year's All-Star matchup."
The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Phoenix will be televised nationally on July 12 by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage.