Famous Ponte Vedrans

Baseball legend Bill Terry

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In the summer of 1941, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox became the last baseball player to hit over .400 for a season. It was a big deal then and a much bigger deal today. Williams also won the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs. What he did not win was the MVP award. That honor went to his rival Joe DiMaggio.

The Yankees won the pennant that year. DiMaggio also had his 56-game hitting streak that year. Many sportswriters saw the 56-game hitting streak as bigger accomplishment. It was such a big deal that Ted Williams followed his rival’s progress closely. At home games, he would get reports on Joe’s progress from the old guy that operated the left field scoreboard and then relay that information to his centerfielder, Dominic DiMaggio, Joe’s little brother.

One of the reasons that Williams’ .400 season was not the huge deal it would be today was because someone else had hit .400 just 11 years before. His name was “Memphis” Bill Terry, and he is the last person to hit .400 in the National League. Terry played for the N.Y. Giants. He won a World Series in 1933 along with teammates Mell Ott and “King” Carl Hubbell. Later, he would manage the team as well. In 1954, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

After he retired, Terry moved to Jacksonville and owned Bill Terry Buick over in Orange Park on Blanding Boulevard. He had a home in Ortega and another house on the beach in Ponte Vedra. He remains one of this area’s most famous residents. His grandson, Ray Terry Jr., remembers going to visit his grandfather at the beach and says, “He wasn’t the kind of guy you ran up to and jumped in his arms.” Terry was a tough guy. He grew up in an era where players were tough. In the off-season he worked for the railroad loading and unloading heavy sacks.

Terry continued to have an association with baseball after he arrived in Jacksonville. In 1958, he bought the Jacksonville Braves from Sam Wolfson, of Wolfson Children's Hospital fame. Wolfson had bought the team in 1953 and immediately integrated it and the South Atlantic League, adding a 19-year-old Henry Aaron and two other African-Americans to the roster. By 1958, Sam was in failing health and he was looking to sell. Bill Terry was the perfect buyer for the franchise, now known as the Jumbo Shrimp. Terry also served as commissioner of the South Atlantic League for a period.

In 1986, Memphis Bill gave an interview to famed sportswriter and broadcaster Red Barber. He was almost 88 years old at the time. He told Barber he was still running the Buick dealership. He got up every day at 5:30 a.m. and was in the office by 7:30 and home by noon. He also related a story about how he had raised over $200,000 for desperately needed renovations of St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Ortega back in the early ‘50s. Barber asked if Bill was chairman of the building committee. Terry responded, “I was the committee.” 

Scott A. Grant is a local historian and author. By day, he is president of Standfast Asset Management, a fiduciary asset management firm. He welcomes your comments at scottg@standfastic.com.

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