It was primarily for this reason that the greatest star ever to wear a Boston Red Sox uniform maintained an uneasy relationship with the press and fans, believing the former to be unfairly aligned against him and the latter fickle and unforgiving, quick to hurl epithets at any miscue. He was feeling particularly surly as he came to the plate in a scoreless home game on July 17, 1956 to face Kansas City Athletics pitcher Tom Gorman. So when the crowd that had jeered him, despite all he'd done in fifteen seasons, rose to their feet to cheer as his solo shot cleared the outfield wall to record his 400th homer and score what would prove to be the game's only run, he only felt his blood boil more. As he crossed home plate, he glared up at the press box and let a jet of spit fly. For the transgression, and two more in an incident a couple weeks later, the American League fined Williams $5,000, a figure that would have been the largest monetary penalty ever levied against a ballplayer, had he ever paid it.
Trotting out to retrieve the bat as Williams jogged the bases for the 400th time was bat boy Del Baker, Jr., the son of the Red Sox coach who had played a few seasons with Ty Cobb's Tigers in the mid-Teens. His letter of provenance sheds an interesting light on the milestone blast:
"I was the batboy on July 17, 1956 when Ted Williams hit his 400th home run. When on the on-deck circle, Ted Williams would warm up using three bats, as was usual in the Major Leagues during that era. A mistake was made during the warm up for the 400th HR and not all three bats Ted grabbed were his. One of them was a Billy Goodman bat. When his time came to bat, he threw two aside and mistakenly used a Billy Goodman bat he was warming up with to use for his 400th HR. When Ted was notified that this was the bat he used to hit [he said], "I hit it with the wrong bat. I don't want it" and gave it to Del Baker, Sr. who placed white tape over the barrel of the bat and had Ted sign it at the time."
And, sure enough, there's a number "10" in marker on the knob of the bat. But while the bat had been appropriated by teammate Billy Goodman, the experts at MEARS do confirm that "Based on examination of H&B shipping records, the label period (1950-60), Length (35"), and current weight (32 ounces) this bat was supplied to Williams during the 1952-55 era." The engraved name on the barrel is, unfortunately, obscured by view, but in a manner that further authenticates the bat as one of some importance. A 2x5" strip of athletic tape is affixed over this area of the barrel and inscribed in what is clearly 1950's ink and autograph format, "To Del Baker, Teammate & friend, Ted Williams." We do believe that Williams' facsimile signature is located underneath, but destruction of the tape would be required to confirm.
In the interest of full disclosure, we must report that in 2007 another bat purported to be the Williams 400th home run gamer, with provenance from Red Sox bat boy Johnny Orlando, was sold at auction. But it is worthy of note that the presented bat, along with the period gift notation from Williams on the barrel, is accompanied by a signed letter from him as well. Williams provides his authenticating signature at the close of a 1988 letter from Del Baker, Jr. to our consignor's deceased husband, Louis Reyna, that reads, "The baseball bat that Louis Reyna owns which is signed by Ted Williams on a piece of white tape belonged to Billy Goodman. This is the bat that Ted Williams hit his 400th home run with." Finally, we have a notarized letter of provenance from consignor Maria Reyna who writes about the 1989 meeting with the legendary slugger, stating, in part,
"Mr. Williams recalled the fact that he used the Billy Goodman bat when he hit his 400th home run and that he signed the bat at the time that he gifted it to Del Baker, Sr. He was happy to sign the bat again as well as the accompanying letter of authentication at the TropWorld event." The blue sharpie signature on the bat rates 9+/10. LOA from MEARS, A6. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (Williams autographs). Full LOA from James Spence Authentication (Williams autographs).