The Negro Leagues: Gone, But Not Forgotten:Remembering Wilmer “Big Red” Fields

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 26, 2005

Wilmer Fields

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Back in 1996, just a few years following the baseball strike, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the Negro League’s most underrated players. Known as “Big Red” in his heyday, Wilmer Fields was appearing at a local baseball card shop talking baseball and promoting his autobiography, “My Life In The Negro Leagues”.

The thing that struck me the most about Mr. Fields was how he truly enjoyed his experience in the Negro Leagues. Like many other Negro Leaguers following the signing of Jackie Robinson, Fields was approached by several Major League teams about playing in the big leagues.

His response was always the same, thanks, but no thanks. “They told me I would finally get the chance to play with the best”, Fields would say. “I was already making good money and I was comfortable. I didn’t need to play in the majors to prove myself. When I made the Negro Leagues, I was already playing with the best baseball players in the world”.

Standing 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Fields played quarterback at Virginia State University but he eagerly left school when he was recruited to play for the Homestead Grays in 1939.

After going 30-9 as a pitcher from 1940-42, he was inducted into the Army in 1943. He served in World War II before returning to the Grays, putting up a 72-17 record over the club’s final five seasons.

According to ”The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues,” Fields possessed a running fastball, a curve and a slider as a pitcher.

He was the Grays’ ace on their final championship team in 1948, going 7-1 in league games and winning his only decision in that fall’s Negro League World Series. In all, he played for eight championship teams with the Grays.

In 1952, though, Fields accepted a $14,000 offer to play for eventual Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke’s minor league team in Toronto. He hit .299 in the Triple-A International League and also played four seasons in the Canadian League, winning Most Valuable Player awards in 1951, 1954 and 1955.

He later pitched and played third base for two seasons with minor-league Fort Wayne before hitting .392 in the Mexican League in 1958. Fields, who was able to see much of the world during his baseball career, also was MVP of the Puerto Rican League in the winter of 1948-49, the Venezuelan League in 1951-52 and the Colombian League in 1955-56.

He left baseball in 1958 and initially took a job as a bricklayer’s helper. Disappointed by the low pay, he found more promising work as an alcohol counselor with the District government.

His work took him to reform schools and prisons. At the Lorton Correctional Complex, he organized baseball games between inmates and young Prince William County players.

He retired in the mid-1980s, worked briefly as a security guard and then became part of the new Negro League Baseball Players Association. As president since the mid-1990s, Mr. Fields organized autograph shows and held benefit auctions to raise money for many of his former colleagues from the diamond.

Mr. Fields passed away earlier this year on June 4 due to a long illness. The thing I’ll always remember about him was his enthusiasm about the game of baseball. It was something that stayed with him until his final days.

While players like Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, and Josh Gibson got all the headlines, the Negro Leagues was also full of athletes whose talent and humility was something to be treasured.

NOTE: The Negro League Baseball Players Association, The Washington Post, the Manassas Journal Messenger all contributed to this story.