Ted Williams’ “Red Seat” homer: How far did it really go?

On June 9, 1946, Ted Williams hit a Fred Hutchinson pitch further than anyone has ever seen one hit at Fenway Park.  The ball flew off his bat to right field, and flew, and flew, finally landing on the straw hat of a startled fan in the 37th row of the right field bleachers, which was painted red some years later to commemorate the event.Williams_red_seat_blog_2

For some time, this home run has been quoted as having traveled 502 feet, but Hit Tracker analysis indicates that this is a significant underestimate.  Examination of satellite and ground-based digital photos suggests that the 502 foot figure is an accurate measurement of the horizontal distance to the "Red Seat", but the impact point is approximately 30 feet above field level, meaning the ball would have covered a lot more distance before landing at field level, had its flight not been interrupted.  But how much more?

To reconstruct the trajectory, atmospheric assumptions must be made:

  • Temperature: contemporary meteorological records place the afternoon high
    temperature at 76 degrees, so this value is used, since the 1st inning of the second game of a doubleheader would take place near the high-temperature point of the day on a June day in Boston.
  • Wind: the wind in Boston that day was 19-24 mph from the west, so based on the layout of Fenway Park, a value of 21 mph out to right field was selected.
  • Altitude:  Fenway Park is about 21 feet above sea level.

Next, a time in flight must be determined.  Since there is no film of the actual home run, there is no way to measure this, so we have to make an estimate, which we can then evaluate to see if it creates a reasonable trajectory.   After evaluating a variety of times, a value of 5.8 seconds was selected; this time yields a speed-off-bat of 118.9 mph and an angle of 38.3 degrees, which fits well with Williams’ recollection that he hit the ball at a nearly perfect trajectory.



With these values, the Red Seat homer is estimated to have traveled 527 feet.  The atmospheric and time of flight assumptions are somewhat debatable, of course, but any reasonable combination of figures leads to a true distance of 520 to 535 feet, well above the 502 figure.  No wonder the Red Seat has never been even closely approached, much less equalled, in the 60 years since Williams’ historic homer…


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