We all know that nobody has hit .400 in the major leagues since Ted Williams in 1941. But in 1977, a St. Louis Cardinals bench player named Roger Freed came very close.
Freed made his major league debut with the Baltimore Orioles in 1970. In 1973, when the Designated Hitter rule was adopted by the American League, Freed was in Cleveland's minor league system. But that season, he would be traded to the Reds. He would subsequently be sold to Monterrey in the Mexican League, traded from Monterrey to the Montreal Expos, and then claimed by the Cardinals as a Rule 5 pick in December of 1976.
Unfortunately for Freed, none of those destinations were in the American League, and Freed - nominally a first baseman/outfielder - was really built to be a designated hitter. In the parts of eight major league seasons, he posted a .326 wOBA but never positive value in the field.
Freed was the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1976, the 2nd time he earned that honor, hitting 42 home runs for the Expos affiliate in Denver.
The Cardinals claimed Freed in the Rule 5 draft and put him on the 1977 team in essentially a pinch-hitting-only role. In the first half of the season, he would appear in 20 games for the Cardinals, only six of them where he started. He typically came on late as a pinch-hitter, possibly sticking around for an inning or two at first base as part of a double-switch.
At the All-Star break, Freed was batting .333 / .487 / .500. Those numbers would only grow in the 2nd half. Though his average ticked above .400 at a few points during the season, on Sept. 15 it settled above that mark and would remain there for the final two weeks of the season, topping out as high as .421 on Sept. 22.
Obviously, Freed was putting up these numbers in less than full-time duty, but .400 was still a magical enough number that the Post-Dispatch followed his daily progress.
In addition to the fact that Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, most folks are probably familiar with the story of how he was given the option to sit out the final double-header of the season and assure his average didn't dip below .400. Williams played and went 6 for 8.
Similarly, Roger Freed came into the final game of the 1977 season batting .402. In the bottom of the 9th, with the Mets up 6-4 and two runners on-base, Al Hrabosky's spot in the order was due up. Freed was sent to the plate as a pinch-hitter, with a chance to tie the game or even give the Cardinals the win.
He grounded into a force-out at 2nd base, ending the Cardinals season and leaving him with a .398 average on the season.
Roger Freed's 1977 season looks less impressive to the modern eye. Batting Average is no longer the Holy Grail that it once was, and Freed's .398 came in just 49 games and 95 plate appearances. His .400 BABIP - more than 100 points higher than his career mark - is a sure sign that luck was the biggest factor in Freed's standout season.
Still, even if we look at players with just 95 plate appearances or above, Freed was only the 3rd player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .398 or above (and one of those was also Ted Williams, in his partial 1953 season).
Freed would play two more seasons in St. Louis as a bat off the bench, posting a .303 and .387 wOBA, before leaving baseball for good.