That summer of 1934, and the following summer, Ted supplemented his relatively spare high school season with an extensive sandlot schedule, which served to vastly improve, and showcase, his game. He played American Legion ball for the Padre Serra Post team and for a variety of other clubs in county, independent, and semipro leagues, among them San Diego Market, Central, Walter Church Service Station, Cramer's Bakery, and the North Park Merchants. The clubs played full schedules against each other, and some would also challenge Navy teams from whichever ship was docked in the San Diego harbor, such as the Lexington or the Saratoga. The Navy had plenty of equipment, of course, so Ted and his pals would usually pilfer extra balls and bats, with the tacit blessing of the fleet.
"I remember my first home run," Ted said. "Came against a guy named Hunt in a Sunday game at North Park. Just a poopy fly ball to center, but it made it over the fence. There I was, a little 15‑year-old standing in against guys 25 to 30 and this guy could really throw hard. I could barely get the bat around on it, and I hit that homer."
The Sunday contests were intense and could draw hundreds of fans at various parks around town. Ted would usually get $3 a game, plus a couple of milk shakes and hamburgers afterward. Occasionally a team might spring for $25 to get a Pacific Coast League player who had an off day. In one Sunday game, Ted homered off Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, who had retired in 1930 and become a boozy barnstormer on the semipro circuit.
The teenager's clutch hitting helped build his reputation. One of his sandlot managers, Travis Hatfield, recalled an instance when the team's pitcher had to leave for military school after eight innings in a scoreless game. "So Ted pipes up, 'Let him go, I'll pitch the ninth.' " Hatfield said. "Well, the other team gets a run off Ted and we came to bat, trailing by a run. Our first batter got out, second one got on and Ted had a chance to come up. The third batter went out and the fans started to leave. Ted looked up and waved them back to their seats. 'It's not over yet,' Ted was yelling at them. And it wasn't. He poked one out for a home run and we won, 2–1. Boy, did he have a big grin galloping around the bases."
Back at Hoover for his junior year, Ted broke out, hitting .588 in fifteen games and fifty-one at bats, including seven home runs. Caldwell would buy a milk shake for each player who hit a homer — a perfect reward for the "malt‑up" Kid. That year, Hoover went 12–3. The San Diego Union of April 23, 1935, said young Williams was "pounding the apple like a Babe Ruth." Ted would have had even more home runs but for a unique ground rule at Hoover High. The baseball field was on a football field and had home plate in a corner of one of the end zones. It wasn't more than 275 feet down the right-field line. So the local ground rule was that anything hit over the fence to the right of a pole in right-center, known as the barber pole, was only a double. "Ted hit some of the longest two-base hits in the history of world," recalled Bud Maloney, the sportswriter and early Williams observer. "The ball would still be going up when it went over the fence."*
One of the highlights of the season occurred when Hoover traveled up to Los Angeles to play a doubleheader against Santa Monica. The start of the first game was delayed so that Babe Herman, the former Brooklyn Dodger who had hit .393 with thirty-five homers five years earlier but was then holding out as a Pittsburgh Pirate, could finish taking batting practice. "We were sitting in the dugout while Babe Herman was hitting," former neighbor Del Ballinger said. "And Ted is beating on his wrist, and he'd say, 'Oh, I wish I had power like that. I wish I was that big and strong.' And then Ted got up in the game and hit two balls farther than Babe Herman! I mean, seven miles farther. He hit them farther as a high school boy. I said, 'Ted, you're a doozy.' He never seemed to realize how good he was."
From THE KID, copyright Ben Bradlee Jr., courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.