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DonRocks

Ted Williams (1918-2002) - Career Red Sox Left-Fielder and Perhaps the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, .344 Lifetime Average and 521 Home Runs

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Ted Williams is the only person who can claim - along with Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb - to be the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Here are some statistics which are so mind-boggling that they simply do not compute:

* Williams had a lifetime batting average of .344 - the highest of any player with more than 302 home runs.

* Williams had 521 home runs.

* Williams missed 3 seasons in the prime of his career due to WWII. The three years before, he batted .344, .406 and .356; the three years after, he batted .342, .343, and .369.

* Missing those 3 seasons cost him at least 100 home runs - he would have hit 625 for his career.

* Even more remarkable than the above? His *career* on-base percentage was .482. That is not a misprint.

* Perhaps even *more* remarkable? Not once did he ever have 200 hits in a season. See for yourselves. How can that be? I guess it's because he walked so much (he had 20-12 vision). There are *three people* on that list of *525-different 200-hit seasons* named Williams, none of which is Ted.

* If Williams had played 20 years earlier, I might be able to comprehend these numbers, but he was a *generation* after the big-numbers hitters of the 1920s.

* His batting average, his home runs, and his walks - in my mind - make him a perfectly legitimate choice for the moniker: Greatest Hitter of All-Time.

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With Manny Machado batting .407 after 14 games this season, of course Ted Williams comes to mind, with his .406 average, 75 years ago, in 1941.

Question: Who was the most recent person to bat *higher* than Ted Williams?

Answer: Run your cursor over this to highlight it ... the answer may surprise you: Rogers Hornsby, who batted .424 in 1924: 92 years ago.

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I tend to break baseball into 4 general eras:

  • Before 1900 - Early baseball, slightly different rules, slightly mushier ball, different philosophical approach to the game. Honus Wagner or Willie Keeler were probably the best hitters of this era, although Honus Wagner really made his name in the first decade of the 1900s.
  • Before WWII - I use this break point mostly because Jackie Robinson came along in 1947, although guys like Ted Williams spanned the pre-War and post-War years. I consider Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig to be the best hitters of this era, but Babe Ruth is still on a planet of his own in terms of all the metrics.
  • Between Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood -- After integration, but before free agency. Now we have all of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, all of whom were batting against the most impressive array of arms in history, like Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Jim Bunning, Whitey Ford, Warren Spahn....my pick for the best hitter of this era would be Roberto Clemente.
  • Free-Agency -- Roughly the past 45 years. Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice....

Ted Williams was a great hitter, certainly among the all-time best. But the "greatest"? I'm not willing to hand that title to him. At worst, Gehrig and Ruth were his equals, and in his final years of the 1950s, before Mantle's injuries and drinking wore him down, he was neck-and-neck with The Mick.

But here's what I'll say about Teddy Ballgame -- whatever he set out to do, he was obsessed with being the best. Not just good, but the best. In WWII and Korea, he was considered the best navy pilot, to the point where some of his techniques like speed reading were incorporated into the training. In baseball, he was considered one of the best hitters of all time. And later in life, when he took up fly fishing, he was considered the best fly fisherman on the planet.

 

 

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On 4/25/2016 at 5:15 PM, DonRocks said:

With Manny Machado batting .407 after 14 games this season, of course Ted Williams comes to mind, with his .406 average, 75 years ago, in 1941.

Question: Who was the most recent person to bat *higher* than Ted Williams?

Answer: Run your cursor over this to highlight it ... the answer may surprise you: Rogers Hornsby, who batted .424 in 1924: 92 years ago.

Rogers Hornsby, who batted .424 in 1924: 92 years ago.

What you need to know about Rogers Hornsby is that he was right-handed. Think of all the great hitters in baseball history, from Ty Cobb to Tony Gwynn, and they are mostly left-handed, like Ted Williams.

Why? Because baseball was created so that lefties had an extra step-and-a-half headstart to first base. Lefty hitters always have that advantage. AND....righty throwers have an advantage, which is why they can play all of the defensive positions. Lefty throwers can't play catcher, 3rd base, SS or 2nd base, because of the awkward, cross-body throws required in many game situations, like those smashes down the 3rd base line that Brooks Robinson made look routine, but probably couldn't if his glove was on the other hand.

WHICH IS WHY "wrong handed" is the term used for the doubly-cursed righty hitter who is also a lefty thrower. They are darned rare, but the best may have been Ricky Henderson. Cleon Jones, Hal Chase (and President George H.W. Bush) were among the very few of these in history.

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1 hour ago, Kibbee Nayee said:
  • Before WWII - I use this break point mostly because Jackie Robinson came along in 1947, although guys like Ted Williams spanned the pre-War and post-War years. I consider Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig to be the best hitters of this era, but Babe Ruth is still on a planet of his own in terms of all the metrics.

Ted Williams was a great hitter, certainly among the all-time best. But the "greatest"? I'm not willing to hand that title to him. At worst, Gehrig and Ruth were his equals, and in his final years of the 1950s, before Mantle's injuries and drinking wore him down, he was neck-and-neck with The Mick.

In his final years of the 1950s, Williams was also in his early 40's! And in 1957 he batted .388!

Gehrig was one heck of a hitter, but I really think it was a *lot* easier to hit for video-game numbers in the 20's and 30's than it was to in the 40's and 50's, and Gehrig retired in 1939 - Williams' rookie year - and Williams played all the way up until 1960.

Consider these .400 hitters in that earlier period: Rogers Hornsby hit over .400 in 3 out of 4 seasons, Bill Terry hit .401, George Sisler hit .407 beating out Ty Cobb who hit .401 that same year, then Sisler turned around two years later and hit .420. Harry Heilmann batted .403. 

I'm certainly not taking anything away from Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, and the other big hitters of the early half of the century, but Williams was putting up these numbers twenty years after they played, and *nobody* else did, not for as long and with as much consistency as he did, and you just cannot ignore him missing three tenderloin years to serve in WWII.

Mantle's 56-57 seasons were historic, but other than those two years, he never batted above .321, and his career average was .298; Williams hit .316 in 1960 when he was 41 years old, and other than one freakishly bad season in 1959 - when something *must* have been wrong - .316 was the lowest Williams *ever* hit. In 1957, Mantle's second-best season, Williams outhit him - in average, in home runs, and in slugging - and he was 38 years old! The two finished 1-2 in MVP voting, and I'll bet Williams was angry, but at that point Mantle was surely a better runner and fielder (that, and he played center-field for the Yankees).

Many people discuss Williams' 20:12 eyesight. There are 4 players in history that have over 2,000 career walks, and Williams is the only one of the four who played less than 20 seasons. This is one of the reasons he's the all-time on-base percentage leader with a ridiculous career average of .482.

Note also that Williams played only 6 games in 1952, and 37 games in 1953 (hitting over .400 both of those seasons) - not because he was injured - but because he was called back into active duty during the Korean war. The man missed nearly *five* prime seasons - it's not impossible he could have otherwise broken Ruth's home-run record of 714, and he never really tried to be a home-run hitter. Taking everything into consideration, Williams gets my vote as "Greatest Hitter of All-Time."

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I will not disagree with one of my favorite observers of the great game of baseball, DonRocks.

However, allow me to point out a nuance. In the 1910s - 1920s- 1930s, the only thing you would read on the sports pages was baseball, boxing and horse racing. Football and basketball are entirely television sports, and they were pipsqueaks in those days. If you were an American male and aspired to be an athlete, you aspired to play baseball. That meant that the "pool" of talent that eventually would feed a mere 16 teams, with 400 available jobs, was about 50 million young men from sandlots through the minors.

Fast forward into the '40s - '50s - '60s, and that pool of talent was still about 50 million, going after 400 jobs (500 jobs in the early '60s and 600 jobs in the late '60s), but considerable competition from football and basketball for the available talent. Yes, the population may have grown, but WWII and Korea tore into that total, as well as did football and basketball.

Fast forward to today, and the available talent for baseball has diminished in correlation to the Millennials' attention span, but with considerable international talent coming into the game. But there are now about 1000 jobs to fill on major league rosters.

All of that is to say that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were clobbering the snot out of the best 32 arms available in America, to include Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lefty Grove, Dazzy Vance, Wes Ferrell, George Earnshaw, Carl Hubbell....this was not an era that was devoid of pitching.

 

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And I will not disagree with one of my favorite observers of the great game of baseball, Kibbee Nayee.

I will just add two things:

* Until 1947, MLB was a white-man's club.

* The game has gotten more athletic with higher salaries (although this really hadn't yet occurred during the 40's and 50's - it's more a phenomenon of the past 30-40 years). I do think that in terms of this, Williams qualifies as being from the "older era." If you could put Manny Machado in a time warp and send him back to the early 20th century, people would be saying, "Pie ... *who?*"

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After today, Bryce Harper's on-base percentage is up to a ridiculous .456.

As amazing as all this is (especially considering Harper's batting average is only .278), I want to reiterate that Ted Williams had a *career* on-base percentage of .482.

I'm not qualified to give an opinion on the greatest hitter ever.  I doubt I ever saw Williams hit, and needless to say (despite how ancient I've become), Gehrig, Ruth et al were all before my time.  Nor did I see the pitchers of those earlier decades.  Regardless, that is a ridiculous all time career on base percentage.  I looked up Mr Teddy Ballgame in the trusty statistical package on baseball and if you look at his yearly totals he led the league in walks, on base percentage, slugging percentage, on base plus slugging and a lot of those stats that say...."this guy is bad shit".  Don't pitch to him. 

...and as KN referenced the guy was a super fighter pilot and a super fly fisherman.   Wow. 

...and he froze his brain for posterity, and he was a mean tough interview and generally an unusual character to say the least.  If I'm not mistaken teams used a shift on him and he refused to hit to left field.  Is that correct?  

Hmmm.  I don't believe in this "save your being for posterity "stuff"....but it would be great to see this guy in real life batting behind Harper, with Murphy behind both of them.   Pitchers would have to pitch to those guys....and they would be smacking home runs all over Nats Stadium.  It would be great to watch and great for the fans catching balls in the outfield stands.  My grandmother could pitch for that team and still win 15.

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, DaveO said:

...and he froze his brain for posterity

Actually, there's a very good chance that poor Ted had *no idea* about this cryonics nonsense:

Dec 1, 2013 - "Startling Details About Ted Williams' Life Unearthed" - by Ben Bradlee, Jr. on bostonglobe.com

Enough of that sad, morbid story (for me, anyway), and back to baseball.

(By the way, DaveO, if you use baseball-reference.com a lot - if you click on the column headings, it sorts things like a spreadsheet.)

---

Does anyone know what happened to Williams in 1959? That one season stands out like a sore thumb:

I personally consider a good slash line for a season as being .300/.400/.500 (a "slash line" is batting average / on-base percentage / slugging percentage). So far, both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have accomplished that only one time each, and Manny Machado has never done it.

Remove 1959 from Williams' career (it was a standout-terrible season, and if anyone knows why it happened, I'd be curious to know). If you remove it, the slash line you get from combining his 3 worst seasons ever, in each individual category, is:

.316/.436/.556 (those are from 1960/1939/1951).

And his worst-ever OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) was 1.036 in 1940 - that's the equivalent of having an on-base percentage of .450 and slugging .586. His career average OPS was 1.116, which was, amazingly, higher than Bryce Harper's MVP season last year which many people claim was one of the greatest seasons in major-league history.

If Williams had hit 42 home runs in each of his five "military years" - unlikely, but not impossible considering they were all during his prime, and he was in excellent health - Hank Aaron would have been chasing Ted Williams instead of Babe Ruth.

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Although not entirely on point (what the heck, it's the Sports forum), but I wrote something close to this point on Quora a few weeks ago (the point was about Babe Ruth, but it extends equally as well to Lou Gehrig):

Walter Johnson was far and away one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and arguably, would be a very effective pitcher today. His combination of velocity, location and movement would translate to today's game quite well. If you look around baseball today, only the top pitcher in each rotation can be considered an "Ace" and Walter Johnson would be the equal of almost any of them.

Against Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth had 107 at bats, hit .280 with 8 doubles, 2 triples and 7 home runs. He walked 19 times, giving him an on base percentage of .389, and Ole Walter punched him out 25 times. Project that out over a typical season, and Babe would hit 35 to 40 home runs, with an OPS of .669, against one of the greatest pitchers of all time. At most, only about 20% of all major league pitchers TODAY compare to Walter Johnson's combination of velocity, location, movement and COMMAND. All things considered, Babe would do pretty well in today's game. (And by extension, Gehrig too.)

Babe had incredible hand-eye coordination and maybe the strongest forearms and wrists in the history of the game. Sure, Aroldis Chapman would strike him out, but can you imagine him hitting in Baltimore against the O's pitching, or in Anaheim against a ravaged Angels' staff?

Against all Hall of Fame pitchers in his era, Babe had 68 HRs. So, you can safely conclude that he would at least be an all-star caliber player if he was just dropped into today's game.

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18 minutes ago, Kibbee Nayee said:

Although not entirely on point (what the heck, it's the Sports forum), but I wrote something close to this point on Quora a few weeks ago (the point was about Babe Ruth, but it extends equally as well to Lou Gehrig):

Interesting you mention Ruth and Gehrig. Now, let me tie this all together:

1994 - "Top 20 Hitters" by Ted Williams

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I have no idea about the greatest hitter(s) in baseball, and have less an idea about the players before my time, but if you look at the career stats for  Gehrig stats and Willams they seem very close to me.  Two Einstein's with a bat.  

Gehrig played in 7 World Series, Williams in 1.  I assume Gehrig had better hitters before and after him in the lineup, meaning less walks, but more opportunities to drive in and score runs.  Williams had more walks...Gehrig had more RBI's and Runs.  Statistically over the long term, those could be a function of teammates and batting orders. (Joe Dimaggio was a teammate of Gehrig's in Gehrig's last 3 full seasons).  (A guy named Babe Ruth played with Gehrig till 1934 (Ruth's last full season)  (That Babe guy, out clobbered all of them).    (btw:  from '26 to '34 Ruth led the league in walks 7 out of 8 years.  I guess pitchers decided he was tougher than Gehrig.  

What a freaking choice?  do you want to be poisoned or bludgened to baseball death).

Lou Gehrig's last season was 1939 and he passed away shortly thereafter.  Williams first season was 1939.  Providential???

One could speak to the quality of pitching discussion.  I can't comment on that.  But I woulda liked to have seen the Babe, Teddy Ballgame and Gehrig bat against Pedro Martinez in the late 90's beginning of the 2000's when Martinez was a pitching freak of nature.  Now that would have been worth the price of admission and a few pops of beer.

 

And to top it all off here is some science (circa 1921) why the Babe could clobber the ball better than anyone else

 

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I'm doing this for the sake of completeness, and not in any way to disparage Teddy Ballgame, whose legacy is enduring.

But his teammates would occasionally remark, especially in later years, that he wasn't a good team player. Like, when a reporter would say "Tough loss for the Sox today, Ted." And he would respond "Well, I got my two hits, so I did my job." Or when the score was tied late in the game, with a runner on second, and he would take ball four barely outside because he was proud of his strike zone discipline and eyesight, but the team needed him to slap the ball to the outfield to get the run home. 

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25 minutes ago, Kibbee Nayee said:

I'm doing this for the sake of completeness, and not in any way to disparage Teddy Ballgame, whose legacy is enduring.

But his teammates would occasionally remark, especially in later years, that he wasn't a good team player. Like, when a reporter would say "Tough loss for the Sox today, Ted." And he would respond "Well, I got my two hits, so I did my job." Or when the score was tied late in the game, with a runner on second, and he would take ball four barely outside because he was proud of his strike zone discipline and eyesight, but the team needed him to slap the ball to the outfield to get the run home. 

Kibbee, I believe you, and I've heard murmurings of similar things, but I've never seen (nor looked) for any actual evidence of this. Can anyone out there find some? 

I can understand the former, because Williams did not like sportswriters - remember, these are also the same sportswriters that weren't questioning the lack of integration in baseball, but if your manager asks you to do something (like try and slap the ball to the opposite field), and you don't, then that could indeed be selfish: That's what I'm looking for concrete evidence of.

I don't doubt you've heard this, because I have, too, but I'd love to see some quotes from his contemporaries or teammates. Williams loved the Red Sox owner, Tom Yawkey - it's in his Hall Of Fame induction speech. Yawkey was considered by many to be a racist, and I wonder if Williams' fondness of him contributed to his reputation of also being racist (which I've also heard, but his induction speech seems to contradict that - he spent a good 20% of that speech arguing on behalf of Negro players getting into the Hall of Fame (probably to piss off the sportswriters)). I also distinctly remember reading a quote by Williams acknowledging that if he was born a certain color, he wouldn't have gotten a chance to do the things he did.

I don't mean to turn a thread about Ted Williams into a race-based thing, but racism, particularly discrimination, is a personal sore spot with me. I'm *still* thinking of singlehandedly going down to Richmond and crossing the picket line in front of the art museum, full of people marching and supporting the Confederate Flag - I'll shut up now, but don't be surprised if one day you read a story about a guy who got the shit beaten out of him down in Richmond.

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Let's start with this one, about his flawed character.

Another one comparing DiMaggio to Williams, and mentioning the strike zone issues:

"Ever the disciplined hitter, Ted took far more walks than Joe, who was willing to swing at bad pitches to drive in a runner. That was a key difference in their hitting philosophies, and even some of Ted’s teammates gave the edge to DiMaggio on this issue."

 

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27 minutes ago, Kibbee Nayee said:

Let's start with this one, about his flawed character.

Another one comparing DiMaggio to Williams, and mentioning the strike zone issues:

"Ever the disciplined hitter, Ted took far more walks than Joe, who was willing to swing at bad pitches to drive in a runner. That was a key difference in their hitting philosophies, and even some of Ted’s teammates gave the edge to DiMaggio on this issue."

Thing is, though, if we're going to criticize Williams about being a poor family man, then we're going to have to start criticizing Julius Erving and Larry Bird, both of whom have disowned their children. It kills me about Erving and Bird, because they're two of my basketball heroes, but the truth is the truth, and they've disavowed their responsibilities as fathers, and I think that's just awful.

In terms of walking, I actually think a high amount of walks is a very underrated *asset* that will eventually (perhaps even soon) be recognized for the strength that it is (I think one of the reasons Bryce Harper has gotten so much better as a hitter is that he's allowing himself to walk more, and being more selective with bad pitches) - I don't see anything in that second article about Williams disobeying manager's orders, and if you read the whole article, it makes Williams sound like a great guy compared to DiMaggio.

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1 hour ago, Kibbee Nayee said:

Let's start with this one, about his flawed character.

Another one comparing DiMaggio to Williams, and mentioning the strike zone issues:

"Ever the disciplined hitter, Ted took far more walks than Joe, who was willing to swing at bad pitches to drive in a runner. That was a key difference in their hitting philosophies, and even some of Ted’s teammates gave the edge to DiMaggio on this issue."

KN:  That 2nd link is such an interesting read.  The single line referenced is dwarfed by a long article that describes both Williams and DiMaggio.  I don't know anything about those guys...but the article makes Williams look terrific and DiMaggio as a miserly soul.   What a fascinating piece of reporting.   Of course you've referenced that Willie Mays is a surly individual...and Don referenced the fatherhood issues that haunt Larry Bird and Dr. J.

Lesson:  Being a great athlete has ZERO to do with being a quality person.  

Williams, Gehrig, Ruth--> all great hitters.  All among the best in history.  Their character and that of others??? Its evidently all over the board.  

 

 

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Athletes with flawed characters are not uncommon. Imagine being so good at a sport that you can $millions$ and the rest of your development sort of goes on hold. Your focus is on the sport and the paycheck, and all else pales. (You might be able to say something similar about actors, although they tend to be more self-absorbed.)

On the concept of taking pitches barely out of the strike zone when your team needs a late-inning run, Joey Votto also comes to mind as that kind of ballplayer.

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9 minutes ago, DaveO said:

Lesson:  Being a great athlete has ZERO to do with being a quality person.  

2 minutes ago, Kibbee Nayee said:

Athletes with flawed characters are not uncommon. Imagine being so good at a sport that you can $millions$ and the rest of your development sort of goes on hold. Your focus is on the sport and the paycheck, and all else pales. (You might be able to say something similar about actors, although they tend to be more self-absorbed.)

You all have reminded me of one of my favorite commercials:

 

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22 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

You all have reminded me of one of my favorite commercials:

And Barkley is my favorite NBA player to watch, let alone is very entertaining on TNT.  .....and has been a controversial human/athlete for decades.  

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Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson, Rae Carruth, OJ Simpson, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Stewart, Carmelo Anthony, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Ray Rice, Ben Roethlisberger, Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods ... hundreds of pro athletes with troubled personalities.

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On 7/19/2018 at 12:31 PM, dcs said:

Now in Living Color: Ted Williams’s Last Game, by Bill Pennington, July 19, 2018, on nytimes.com.

Spectacular footage.  Williams waited out many of those pitches never swinging— when he did swing a beautiful balanced at bat.  

Tremendous color.  My vague memory was that my parents didn’t have a color TV till either the late 60’s or later:  so few color shots of sports before that time.  Just so neat!!  The outfield panoramas are gorgeous:  the beauty of baseball:  the great big outdoor game.  That is a baseball treasure

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On 7/19/2018 at 12:31 PM, dcs said:

Now in Living Color: Ted Williams’s Last Game, by Bill Pennington, July 19, 2018, on nytimes.com.

Look at his graceful warm up! It's like hearing John Wayne talk.

Thanks for this! And a combat veteran of two wars! You gotta shake your head.

In my heart I know that if I survived a single battle I would have said "Are you out of your MIND? You want me to go out there AGAIN for another one?" Some men went to two WARS! I don't have their stuff, to say the least. Done some brave things in my time, just not with ammunition flying at me. Got the Yossarian in me, I guess.

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