Following a defiant seventh-round knockout of previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12...
BASN Classic BlackBox: Willie Wells Gets His Due
Originally Published: October 08, 2004 WILLIE WELLS GETS HIS DUE IN DEATH NEGRO LEAGUE ALL STAR
It will always Be. Both the Greatest and the Saddest Chapter in American sports history. If sad isn’t too good a description for what was also the most painful chapter as well. Revealing the Duality of life. Both the glory of athletic achievement and a dark dark stain on America’s consciousness.
All this and much more.
The Negro League.
Once again this complicated message was highlighted in Honors that recognized Willie Wells in Death this week. Long after his Death.
An inherent part of these Complexities is that unless you are a very knowledgeable fan of baseball’s past, all of it, you have no idea who Willie Wells is. Yet had he been allowed to display his talent beyond the Negro League in the Major Leagues he would today be one of those Legendary Names that are widely recognized.
Cheer for Willie Wells. Weep for Willie Wells.
Yes we will get to Willie himself in a Moment. But the lead in is just as Important. Willie Wells won’t mind at this point he has Eternity. Willie’s segregation from the Major Leagues points out a further reality that it was not only clearly African American players who were banned from “real” baseball.
The deep deep Bigotry that pervaded enlightened America for the first half of the 20th century ( as though it stopped there ) while the United States was being proclaimed the Light of the World everywhere – that Bigotry did not ‘discriminate” (sic) against Cubans and Caribbeans and South Americans and would have as well against Asians and any other non Caucasians had they played baseball. And done so in America.
All the players of Color no matter how good or their point of Origin. No matter how All American. No matter if they had been war heroes risking their lives for their country. No matter how Patriotic. No matter if they could hit, field, pitch or think baseball better than Anyone.
No matter if they lived exemplary lives or dedicated their free time to the most neglected. No matter if they had adoring children who looked up to them as Gods. No matter if they were prefect husbands or brilliant intellects. No matter if they were dedicated citizens deeply involved in the political life of their community and their nation. No matter how much they believed in and worshipped the same God as white Americans.
The Great White Baseball Machine mowed them all down.
Any who strayed in its Path.
Including without hesitation Willie Wells.
So who is Willie Wells. One of the greatest Shortstops ever. And what happened to him this week. His Remains were reburied in Triumph. In Texas.
Wells is credited as the very first Shortstop ever to emerge who combined dazzling fielding talent with awesome power at the plate. In his long career he played for 10 Negro League teams. Including the great great Homestead – cal them WAshington – Grays and the “wonderfully” named New York Black Yankees. Though the highlight of his career and best known for playing with the St., Louis Stars, his first pro team. There is 1926 he set a then Negro League record of hitting 27 home runs in an 88 game season.
Willie Wells compiled a lifetime Negro League batting average of .334. And isn’t this fascinating and ever so telling in playing in exhibit games against Major League teams his career average was an astonishing .392. Remember that and the difference between the two ! Wells’ pro career stretched from 1924 – 1949. Besides his stellar play at Shortstop he was also an accomplished at third base and second base during his long career.
His records and baseball accomplishments are Legion. And finally in 1997 he was elected to the Major League Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans. Or Baseball’s very late and somewhat limited but still worthwhile effort to make op for its Sins allowing Negro League Greats into the Hall.
But it was only this week that Willie Wells received a singular honor that ever so belatedly begins to Recognize fully the contributions and the life of one Negro League Immortal.
On October 5th in a Ceremony attended by the Texas Governor a large number of Dignitaries and Wells elderly daughter Willie James Wells was re-interred in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin reserved as the final resting place for Texan born Greats. Wells up until now buried in another cemetery in a little noticed grave will now forever be among many of the best known names from Texas history. For better or worse President Bush may eventually Rest there.
No matter. Willie Wells a truly magnificent baseball player with a gift for the game, born in Texas who by every right should like so many others played to Greatness in the so called Majors will now Endure far Beyond the long forgotten major league players who took positions on the field and at the plate that far more deserving players Willie Wells high among them never held for “reasons” that define the worst in the Human Condition.
Willie James Wells
Rest in Sweet Peace
Now & Forever
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Governor Perry with Wells daughter Tuesday at Texas State Cemetery