Eddie Mifflin was a salesman, businessman, and Pennsylvania state legislator who stands as the fan with the greatest impact on the history of baseball. Mifflin’s encyclopedic knowledge of baseball statistics, his salesmanship, and serendipity helped give us the greatest hitter of all time.
Ted Williams announced that his retirement would follow the 1954 season in a three-part article in The Saturday Evening Post that April. It made sense. The Red Sox slugger was 36 years old, coming off a succession of seasons interrupted by injuries and military service. The broken elbow he suffered in the 1950 All-Star Game had, he felt, robbed him of power permanently. When he came back from the Korean War in June 1953, only a genuine need for money had compelled him to sign through the end of 1954. And a broken shoulder in spring training had cemented his resolve just before the Post articles ran.
Near the end of the 1954 season, Eddie Mifflin encountered Williams in the Baltimore train station after a Red Sox-Orioles series. He introduced himself and said, “You’re not really going to retire, are you? You can’t, you know. Your numbers aren’t good enough.” Williams was intrigued. “What do you mean my numbers aren’t good enough? I’ve got a lifetime batting average over .350. I’ve hit home runs and knocked in 100 every year of my career. How can my numbers not be good enough? Good enough for what?”
Mifflin explained. The success of Williams’s career would be measured one definitive way: Would he be elected to the Hall of Fame in the first year he became eligible? Williams had missed so much playing time in WWII and Korea that his career totals weren’t yet impressive enough. And baseball writers were the voters for the Hall of Fame. “Ted, you barely have 350 home runs. You don’t have 1,500 rbi. You don’t even have 2,000 hits. And these writers hate your guts; they didn’t even vote you the MVP twice when you won the Triple Crown. You needs stats that are undeniable. These aren’t.”
Ted arranged to meet Mifflin again in New York later in the road trip. They stayed up all night discussing Williams’s lifetime stats, where he stood in relation to Ruth, Cobb, Foxx, and Gehrig. Finally, Ted said, “What do I have to do?” Said Mifflin, “You’ve got to hit 500 home runs. Only three guys have done it: Ruth, Foxx, and Ott. Hit 500 home runs and they’ll have to put you in on the first ballot.”
In May 1955 Williams rejoined the Red Sox. He went on to compile the most amazing statistics in baseball history for a hitter over 35. He won two more batting championships. And he had his new friend, Eddie Mifflin, encouraging him and marking his progress with telegrams and phone calls. “Congratulations, those two RBI yesterday moved you past Foxx.”
Williams had the only off-year of his big league career in 1959. At age 41, he suffered from a painful neck throughout the season and slumped to .254. Yawkey wanted him to retire. But he finished the season with 492 home runs. Mifflin’s vision for Williams was fulfilled with his triumphant final 1960 season: a .316 farewell average, soaring past Mel Ott’s 511 home runs, and capping his career with the 521st in his last at-bat. And five years later, on the first ballot, Williams was elected to the Hall of Fame.