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Major League Baseball's strange, shortened, and fan-less 2020 regular season has come to an end. Every team with a winning record qualified for MLB's expanded playoff system this year, as did two teams with losing records. One of them, the Houston Astros, disgraced themselves in a cheating scandal that didn't come to light until after the 2019 World Series, which they lost to the Washington Nationals.

Beset by injuries, poor play, and bad luck, the Nats finished tied for last place in their division this year. But 2020 had a couple of bright spots for Washington fans, the brightest being the batting title won by 21-year-old budding superstar Juan Soto

The kid began the abbreviated season in quarantine after a test indicated he had COVID-19. It was apparently a false positive, and once Soto got on the field there was no stopping him. Going into Sunday's meaningless final game against the Mets, he was locked in a battle with Atlanta Braves star Freddie Freeman for the batting crown. Soto's average stood at .346, Freeman's at .343.The question: to play, or not to play?

Washington manager Davey Martinez penciled Soto's name into the lineup. The kid walked in his first at-bat and singled in his second. With the Nats ahead in a game that would turn into a laugher, Martinez pulled him, securing the title. Will this one always have an asterisk beside it, even if only in the recesses of our minds, because of the brevity of the 2020 season? Perhaps, but that probably depends on what Soto does in the years ahead. For now, it brings to mind Ted Williams, and his feats on Sept. 28 -- the last day of the season -- in both 1941 and 1960.

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On Sept. 28, 1941, the Boston Red Sox were in Philadelphia for a double-header against the Athletics -- the last two games of the season. Neither team was in the pennant race and Williams and the other players were understandably distracted by international events that were inexorably drawing the United States into another world war.

"The Kid," as Williams was known, was leading the American League in hitting by a large margin. But there was drama anyway. Williams' batting average, to the last decimal point, was .39995. Rounded off, it came to .400 -- a hallowed mark now, a milestone then -- and the dilemma was whether Williams should risk it by playing in two meaningless games. Opting to play, he went 6 for 8 in the two games, with a double and a homer, raising his average to .406, a mark that has never been approached since.

Williams did go off to war in 1942. A combat pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, he answered the call in the Korean War, too, and by the time his baseball career ended, Ted Williams had missed nearly five seasons to military service, while making a strong case in support of his stated ambition to be recognized as "the greatest hitter who ever lived."

As fate would have it, it was also Sept. 28, this time in 1960, that the Fenway faithful caught their last glimpse of Williams. In 1959, with his back hurting, the "Splendid Splinter" (one of Williams' many other nicknames) had put up the numbers of a journeyman. Although a "kid" no longer, Williams was determined not to go out that way. At 42, he returned in 1960 for a curtain call that lasted all season.

Williams hit .316 that year with 29 home runs. The only one of the 29 anyone remembers today was clubbed off Jack Fisher of the Baltimore Orioles in the season's home finale. Teddy Ballgame, who had an uneven relationship with Red Sox fans and a toxic one with Boston sportswriters, didn't do the kind of bat flip that would accompany such a swan song today. He circled the bases quickly with his head down, not so much as acknowledging the lusty cheers of the meager crowd, which had stood and cheered for his last at-bat.

The scene was memorialized by writer John Updike in a classic 1960 New Yorker piece, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," which had held up through the years, and not only for the quality of its prose. The line remembered even today takes place after Williams' final homer as the crowd begs him to come out of the dugout one last time to take a bow or, more precisely, to tip his cap. These 10,000 New Englanders were Williams partisans. They were the ones who had always been in his corner. But the hurts of the previous years -- some imagined, some real -- had cut too deep; the stubbornness that made Williams who he was, was too profound. "God does not answer letters," was how John Updike explained it. Ted Williams stayed in the dugout that day, content to let his batting records speak for themselves. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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