Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bucky Williams

Wallace Ignatius "Bucky" Williams was born on December 15, 1906, in Baltimore, the third of Mathilda and Joe Williams' eight children. When he was a baby, his family moved to Formosa Way in Homewood, sending him to Holy Rosary and Crescent Elementary schools.

Williams will be given his final send-off where he started, at Holy Rosary, on Saturday. He died earlier this week, at the age of 102. With him goes a throwback to local baseball history.

Back in the day, Williams was a shortstop/third baseman for both the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays. It's said that he may have been the last living Negro League player left in the city.

Only one Negro League player remains that has more years under his belt than Williams did. Emilio "Millito" Navarro, who just celebrated his 104th birthday on September 26th, was the first Puerto Rican to play baseball in the Negro Leagues.

Williams first took his place on the diamond at Homewood Field, now Willie Stargell Field. He played for one of Pittsburgh's early black teams, the Keystone Juniors, in 1921, and in 1925 wore the uniform of the Pittsburgh Monarchs.

Not very fleet afoot, the infielder was more noted for cranking out singles and doubles. But that was enough to land him a gig on the bench for both of the City's storied Negro League juggernauts.

He joined the Crawfords in 1928, and within a couple of seasons, they were drawing hundreds and sometimes thousands to Ammon Field in the Hill District.

Williams played for them through 1932, long enough to see Gus Greenlee buy the club and put them in their own ball yard, Greenlee Field on Bedford Avenue (now the Bedford Dwelling projects).

Williams disappeared from the Pittsburgh box scores for a spell after that. The big names may have been under contract, but the lesser lights got by passing the hat, and taking home $10-15 after a game was a big deal.

Still, he kept playing, jumping to the Cleveland ABCs in 1932, the Akron Grays in 1933, and Edgar Thomson Steel Mill team until 1936.

That year, he was married to Marjorie Carey, and got back into the Steel City swing of things, joining the cross-town rival Homestead Grays and spending his days at West Field.

Williams recalled getting his first - and only - hit off of Satchel Paige that season and throwing out burner Cool Papa Bell on a bunt were the two plays he most cherished. He returned to the Crawfords in 1937, and stayed with them until they folded their tent in 1939.

As a member of the Crawfords and the Grays, he played with greats such as Josh Gibson, "Cool" Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Martin Dihigo, Oscar Charleston, Buck O’Neil, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and "Smokey" Joe Williams.

Heck, if you're going to come off of the bench, it might as well be because only the best were ahead of you.

Next it was off to ET full-time, where he lined ladles and played ball for their black mill team, while moon-lighting with the Monarchs in the early forties. In fact, one of his greatest memories is of his Edgar Thompson team defeating the Grays in an exhibition game.

Bucky claimed an overall lifetime .340 batting average, a pretty sweet stick, no matter what the level.

He moved from Swissvale to East Liberty, and his boy, David, turned into a baseball brat. Williams donned the blue suit and became an umpire for the East End Little League Association.

Marjorie died in 1977, and Bucky went to Penn Hills to stay with his son and his wife, Sheila, leading the quiet life of a steelworker's retirement.

But in the nineties, baseball took to its roots and rediscovered the black players of the Negro League. Williams took his first plane ride to Kansas City for a celebration bash at the Negro Leagues Museum in 1995. He was named an honorary member of the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame.

And every year, he was a regular at the Josh Gibson Foundation's Black Tie Gala event. The NLLHOF honored Williams during its annual Negro League Hall of Fame Week in early September, calling it an early birthday party. If they only knew...

(Bucky William's obituary is here, written by Kevin Kirkland of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)


Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Awesome post.

Ron Ieraci said...

Hey JP - Thanks for stopping by. I wish I had a chance to see those old bones play.