Bill Terry-The National League’s Last .400 Hitter
Bill Terry was born the day before Halloween in 1898, in Atlanta, Georgia. He came to New York, under the watchful eye of Giants’ skipper John McGraw, at the age of 24 in 1923, but had to wait until George “Highpockets” Kelly was sent to the Reds before he could take over first base in 1927. This meant that most of Bill Terry’s wonderful accomplishments on the baseball field were achieved after he had turned 30 years old. After playing portions of four seasons, Bill Terry hit .326 in 1927 and knocked in 121 runs. Bill Terry would never bat below .310 before he retired after the 1936 campaign.
One fine season after another followed for Bill Terry, as the line drive hitter who would send the ball ringing into the power alleys of the spacious Polo Grounds was a hitting machine. He accumulated over 200 hits in a season six times, and Bill Terry led all of baseball in 1930 with 254 base hits. That year, Bill Terry batted .401, as the newly “juiced” ball, introduced to liven up the game as the Depression began to affect attendance, caused a spike in statistics. Still, nobody else approached .400 that season, even though there were many future Hall of Famers active at the time. Bill Terry sent 129 men over the plate with runs that season, and had 23 homers as well.
Bill Terry approached the game as the business that he felt it was, and was a very unsentimental fellow. He constantly clashed with his manager, John McGraw, and the two fought over his salary almost every year. One of McGraw’s quotes about him was, “Bill Terry, you can ask for more money in the winter and do less in the summer than any ballplayer I know”. It is hard to believe though that McGraw could have really expected more from Bill Terry, as the man had six consecutive 100 RBI seasons and hit over .341 six times as well. In the field, Bill Terry led NL first sackers in fielding average twice, double plays three times, put-outs five times, assists five times, and total chances handled nine times.
When McGraw fell ill in 1932, he picked Bill Terry to succeed him as a player/manager. Bill Terry took the job, and his unwavering policy of giving the press of the day as little information as he could get away with would delay his entry into the Hall of Fame when his playing days were over. The writers had long memories, but Bill Terry didn’t care. He won the National League pennant in 1933, and hit a home run in Game Four of the World Series against the rejuvenated Senators, as the Giants won in five games. Bill Terry then rebuilt the Giants and won two more pennants, in 1936 and 1937, but both years New York was beaten by the Lou Gehrig/Joe DiMaggio Yankees. Bill Terry gave up playing in 1936, but stayed on as the Giant manager until 1942. He had only two losing seasons at the helm, and finished his managerial career with an 823-661 won-loss mark.
His running feuds with the New York writers were the main reason that Bill Terry had to wait so long to be elected to the Hall of Fame, but he finally gained entry in 1954. He became a successful businessman after he left baseball, and lived to the ripe old age of 90 before passing away in 1989. The man who viewed the sport as a business, and then made it his business to excel at it, was not without a sense of humor. Bill Terry once exclaimed, “Baseball must be a great game to survive the fools that run it!” Up until his death, Bill terry would autograph baseballs for fans with his name and .401 next to it, a reminder of one of the greatest seasons had by a player in baseball history.