West Hickory native opposite Ted Williams on the day he finished season at .406

AP Photo Pictured is Ted Williams, slugging Boston Red Sox outfielder, in a posed profile batting stance at Yankee Stadium in New York on May 23, 1941. Williams batted .344 in 1940, and would join the exclusive .400 club, hitting .406 in 1941.

There are some baseball records that will likely never be broken.

Joe Dimaggio’s hit streak.

Cy Young’s 511 wins.

Will White’s 680 innings pitched in 1879 (Youngsville’s Guy Hecker is third on that list).

Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits.

Photo from eBay Pictured is Fred Caligiuri, a native of West Hickory, the opposing pitcher the day Ted Williams finished with a batting average over .400. That feat, accomplished in 1941, hasn’t happened since.

No one in the modern era has come anywhere near those.

While it might only be 40th all time, Ted Williams was the last man to hit .400 for a season. That was over 80 years ago.

That season ended with a double header between Williams’ Red Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics.

According to an article from the Hall of Fame, Williams’ average entering the day was .3995.

That would round up to .400 but he insisted on playing in the double header.

He went 4-5 in game one to raise his average to .404.

A 2-3 performance in game two pushed it to .406, according to the Hall of Fame.

It hasn’t been done since.

Opposite Williams on that day for the second game of the double header was a young right-hander making just his fifth career start.

His name was Fred Caligiuri.

And he was born in West Hickory.

According to Baseball-reference.com, Caligiuri broke into professional baseball in 1937 for the Greenville Greenies in the Coastal Plain League (a minor league).

He pitched four years with the Greenies, culminating with a 20-6 record and 2.17 ERA in 1940 at the age of 21.

That was enough to get him bumped up a couple levels for the 1941 season, pitching for the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Interstate League.

He had an even better year for the Blue Rocks, pitching to a 1.79 ERA over 206 innings.

That was enough for a five-start call up at the end of the year with the Athletics.

“I had pitched a little in high school but I thought of myself as an outfielder and I loved to hit,” Caligiuri told the Society of American Baseball Research for an article. “They liked my arm on throws from the outfield and told me to try pitching.”

The late season promotion, according to the SABR article, bumped Caligiuri’s salary up to $3,000.

Three of his first four major league starts were complete games.

That set the stage for Sept. 28 matchup with Williams.

Williams promptly singled off of Caligiuri in the second and followed it up with a double in his second at bat.

Caligiuri got the best of one of the best hitters of all time in their third and final matchup that day.

And he got the win that day, giving up one run in a complete game effort.

After a 2-2, 2.93 ERA sample of 43 innings in 1941, Caligiuri started the 1942 season in the rotation.

That would be short-lived, though, as he finished the year with a 0-3 record and a 6.38 ERA (though advanced metrics we now have suggest he pitched much better than the ERA deserved, per Baseball-reference).

Like many baseball players of that era, world events prompted a hold on their baseball careers – World War II.

According to his obituary, Caligiuri served both in England and the Philippines.

He rejoined the Blue Rocks for the 1946 season but in spite of a successful year – 14-8 record, 3.51 ERA – he would never get back to the Major Leagues.

Instead, per his obituary, he returned to the area, working at a Ford garage in Knox before moving to Rimersburg, where he purchased the Ford dealership there. He retired in 1980.

When he died in 2018, he was the oldest living Major League Baseball player.

In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, Caligiuri recounted that most famous game of his career.

“Connie Mack told us, the pitchers, ‘Just don’t give him anything,'” Caligiuri said of Williams. “Throw it as hard as you can throw it. In other words, he’s going to earn it.

“The game I’ll always remember,” he told the Observer. “No matter if you only throw one ball in the major leagues, you’ve accomplished something.”


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