Bill Terry signed his first contract for baseball and played in 1914 when he was 15 years old. However, he didn’t make it to the majors until age 24 in 1923 and didn’t really have his first good season until 1925. This is probably why he peaked in his early 30s.
Let us see what happened. One problem was he started as a pitcher. That probably slowed his development. In the spring of 1918 with the U.S. involved in World War One, his wife pregnant, Terry left the minors for a regular job. He didn’t come back after the war.
Still loving the sport, he formed a company team which played on weekends in 1919. Strangely enough he only managed the team the first year but played himself in 1920. In 1922, old players scouted Terry out and told John McGraw about him. They met and Terry said he was happy with his life and job and could only leave for more money.
McGraw probably in shock left but met Terry’s asking point a month later in a telegram. McGraw signed Terry and optioned him to the Toledo Mud Hens, where Terry spent the next two seasons. Terry came up late in the season and played three games. His first major league games at age 24.
Terry is really famous for two things. He was the last National League player to hit .400. He did this at the age of 31 in 1930. Terry came into September hitting .409. On September 19th, he went 0 for 4 and his average slipped to .398. The next day Terry went 4 for 5 to bring his average up to .402. He then had 7 hits in 11 at bats the next three games to bring his average up to .406.
In the last game of the season Terry was down to .403. He could have rested safely over .400, but he played. It could have been the Giants were a game ahead of the Dodgers and didn’t want the Dodgers to tie them for 3rd place. Terry went 0 for 3 in the game with a sacrifice fly RBI and a walk. His first 3 at bats was his 0 for 3. He ended up with an average of .401. If he made an out one more time his average still would have been .401. What was unusual is he actually took a walk.
Terry took a fair amount of walks, but wasn’t a big walker, for as good of a hitter he was. He was a line drive hitter with mostly doubles and triples power. He hit 20 homeruns three times in his career, including 1930. He had a lifetime batting average of .341 which was great, but his on base average was .393. You would expect it to be higher with a .341 average. However, Terry was still a great hitter, in his early 30s he had three seasons in a row where he was 1.5 times better than the average hitter. Some impressive hitting. Another thing that diminishes Terry hitting .400 is that 1930 was one of the greatest years of hitting in National League history.
The other thing Terry was known for was for blowing the National League pennant in 1934. He was manager of the Giants at the time. He managed his team to a World Series victory the year before. When going over how the season would go during spring training with a reporter, Terry talked about what expected from the various teams. The Brooklyn Dodgers, a rivel for years weren’t expected to be very good, so Terry made the joke “Is Brooklyn still in the league?”
At the end of the season the Giants were tied for first with the Cardinals with two game to go. The Giants played Brooklyn which the Cardinals played Cincinnati. Of course, the Giants lost two straight to Brooklyn while the Cardinals won both games and the pennant. The Cardinals and history gave Terry a lot of grief over that. But looking at the standings, the Cardinals had the advantage. Brooklyn finished the year in 6th place only 10 games below .500. They weren’t a great team, but they weren’t really a bad team. Meanwhile the Reds finished in last 47 games below .500. There were two terrible teams in the league that year, with the Phillies being the other.
The other thing I would say is both teams had a good amount of talent, but Terry won 3 pennants in his 5 years, while St. Louis only won one. I think Terry deserves some credit for that.