Almost 80 years later, baseball fans still debate Ted Williams vs Joe DiMaggio – Who was the better baseball player? Williams is among the best two or three best hitters in baseball history while DiMaggio is known for his astounding hitting streak and an all-around, polished game. But one key statistic shows Williams may have done more to get his team wins.
Ted Williams vs Joe DiMaggio – The Rivalry
DiMaggio and Williams were the two greatest hitters of their era. The rivalry between the two dominated baseball in the 1940s. It didn’t hurt that Williams played for the Boston Red Sox and DiMaggio for the New York Yankees, adding another dimension to that storied rivalry.
In terms of championships, it’s not close. DiMaggio played on nine World Series championship teams with the Yankees. Williams never won a championship. He was part of the Red Sox team that won the American League pennant in 1946 but lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Most of the debate between Ted Williams vs Joe DiMaggio focuses on the 1941 season. DiMaggio won the Most Valuable Player award. It was the season he had a 56-game hitting streak, setting a record that has never been broken. He ended the season with 30 homers, 125 RBI, and a .357 batting average.
But that same year, Williams hit .406 – the last Major League player to finish a season with an average above .400 average. He even played the final game of the season, putting his above-.400 batting average in jeopardy. He got six hits that day in eight at-bats. Williams also led the league in on-base percentage (.553), slugging (.735), home runs (37), runs scored (135) and walks (147). He also struck out just 27 times for the whole season.
As noted by the MLB site, the deciding factors in favor of DiMaggio were the streak and the fact the Yankees won the World Series while the Red Sox finished 84-70, 17 games behind the Yankees.
Advantages to DiMaggio
DiMaggio finished with a lifetime .325 batting average. He hit under .300 in just two seasons: 1946 (when he hit .290) and his final year, 1951, when he hit .263. He hit 361 homers in his career and drove in 1,537 RBI.
That’s all impressive. But what sets DiMaggio apart includes:
- Defense. His smooth play patrolling centerfield for the Yankees – he was a complete player both at-bat and in the field
- The Streak. Players have flirted with the .400 hitting mark last achieved by Williams, but the closest anyone has ever come to DiMaggio’s consecutive game hitting streak is Pete Rose with 44 in 1978. Most baseball players agree it is a record that ranks among those that will likely never be broken.
- Star Power. The dapper DiMaggio was a media darling. He married Marilyn Monroe. Think about that. Also, the Les Brown Orchestra performed an awesome song about him sung by Betty Bonney. DiMaggio was the height of sports star cool in 1941.
Advantages to Williams
Williams was not the height of cool. Williams was just out there grinding out amazing year after an amazing year for a team that could never put it together to win a championship.
Williams has a lifetime .344 batting average and retired with 521 home runs and 1,839 RBI. In 1947 he won the Triple Crown for the second time, he had done it before in 1942. Yet, in both years he finished second in MVP voting to DiMaggio (in 1947) and Yankee Joe Gordon (1942).
You can’t blame Red Sox fans for arguing that if Williams had played for the Yankees, he would have received a lot more MVP awards.
In his final season, Williams had 310 at-bats and hit .316. He was 41 years old. Think about that.
But we’ve saved the best pro-Williams information for last. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is number that factors in all a player’s skills to determine how many wins the player added to a team above what a replacement player (such as one from AAA) would add.
Williams ranks 14th all-time in WAR. DiMaggio ranks 68th, according to Baseball Reference. The statistics show DiMaggio added 78.1 wins, while Williams added 123.1. So, from a purely WAR point of view, you want Williams.
Although really, the smart move may be to maneuver around those debating Ted Williams vs Joe DiMaggio and get one of the three highest WAR players of all time: Babe Ruth, Cy Young, and Walter Johnson.