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Fri, 08.10.1906

From the sandlots to the big leagues, Willie Wells

Willie Wells

*Willie Wells was born on this date in1906. He was an African American baseball player.

From Austin, TX Willie James Wells developed his skills on the Texas sandlots, playing with the San Antonio Aces until being discovered by the Black major leagues. The teenage whiz signed with the St. Louis Stars in 1924 and made himself a good hitter, with averages of.378 and.346 in 1926-27. Wells established a single season record the former year, when he hit 27 Home Runs in 88 games. His hitting continued to sizzle with consecutive batting titles in 1929-30 with averages of.368 and.404. With Wells, the St. Louis Stars won championships in 1928, 1930 and 1931.

After the 1931 season, both the Stars and the NNL folded and he came the Chicago American Giants. In Chicago he led the American Giants to consecutive pennants in two different leagues, capturing the Negro Southern League title in 1932 and the first flag of the new NNL in 1933. That year he was selected to the West squad's starting line-up in the first annual East-West All-Star classic. All totaled, Wells played in eight All-Star games, and had a.281 batting average and a.438 slugging percentage. In 1936 the superstar shortstop left Chicago for the Newark Eagles, where he continued playing for the remainder of the decade, batting.357,.386 and.346.

Wells was one of the top shortstops of all time, Black or White. In the field he had great range, sure hands and an accurate arm. Wells also starred in Latin American leagues, compiling a.320 lifetime average in Cuba. In his farewell season, he hit.328 to lead his team to the Championship, earn a spot on the All-Star team, and win the League's MVP Award. Records there show batting averages of.345 and.347 in 1940 and 1941, while playing with Vera Cruz. In 1942 he returned to Newark as a player manager. Wells had a sensational season, hitting.361. He was also selected to Cum Posey's annual All-American dream team and was identified as one of the top five players in the game.

In 1943 he returned to Mexico and a year later, he replaced Rogers Hornsby as manager of the Mexico City ball club. Wells stayed in Mexico for two more years before he again returned to the U. S., and although past his prime, the "Devil" still retained enough magic in his bat to hit for averages of.320 and.297 in 1945-46. The latter season, when Jackie Robinson was signed by the Dodgers organization, Wells helped tutor him on the art of making the pivot at second base. For the remainder of the decade, Wells played with the New York Black Yankees, Baltimore Elites, Memphis Red Sox, and Indianapolis Clowns. In the early '50s, Wells was playing manager with the Winnipeg Buffaloes, spending most of his final years in baseball in that country.

He returned to the U. S. in 1954 as manager of the Birmingham Black Barons. When he finally hung up the spiked shoes, he left behind some impressive credentials. Against regular Negro League competition, he hit (lifetime).334 and against major leaguers in exhibition games he hit.392. Wells died on Jan. 22, 1989 in his hometown.

Reference:
The Negro Baseball Leagues A Photographic History
By Phil Dixon with Patrick J. Hannigan
Copyright 1992, Jed Clauss and Joanna Paulsen
Ameron House Publishing
ISBN 0-88488-0425-2

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