Wild Bill Wright

"A lot of people today think we were just standin' around other there on the ball field in our baseball uniforms and spikes, that we couldn't do anything, or that we clowned around. But we played good baseball in the Negro Leagues, and we showed the Major League players we were as good as--and in some cases, better than--they were"*
--Wild Bill Wright
Quoted from "The Negro Leagues" by David Craft

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Negro Leaguer of the Month
July, 2005

Burnis "Wild Bill" Wright

Born: June 6, 1914 in Milan, Tennessee
Died: August 3, 1996 in Aguascalientes, Mexico
Ht:6'-4", Wt: 225
Batted both and threw right
Position: outfield
Years: 1932-1956
Teams: Columbus Elite Giants, Washington Elite Giants, Baltimore Elite Giants, Mexico

Wild Bill spent his entire Negro League career with the Elite Giants (pronounced "Eee-lite"), from their start in Columbus, to Washington, D.C., and finally to Baltimore.

A tall and powerfully-built switch-hitting outfielder, Wright was considered one of the top all-around stars in the Negro Leagues from the mid-30s through the 1940s. Besides having great power from both sides of the plate, and annually posting a high average, Wright was an outstanding outfielder and only Cool Papa Bell could outrun him. He was once timed circling the bases in 13.2 seconds.*

"Wild Bill" got his nickname from his lack of control while pitching on the sandlots of Milan, Tennessee (many thought it came from his super aggressive sliding). When he was offered a tryout with the Columbus Elite Giants in 1932, he was switched to the outfield, where he stayed his entire Negro League career.

Wright batted in the heart of the order, usually third, for the Elite Giants for a decade, and batted as high as .400 several times. He won the Negro National League batting title in '39 with a .488 average in League games. His lifetime Negro League batting average, .361, is one of the highest in history; only Josh Gibson, Chino Smith and Jud Wilson posted higher lifetime percentages.

In 1936, Wright was chosen (along with Bob Griffith, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Raymond Brown and Buck Leonard, among others) to play with a Negro League All-Star team that entered the Denver Post tournament, bringing together some of the greatest teams outside Organized Baseball. The Negro League stars cruised through the tourney in seven straight games, and is considered one of the strongest teams ever assembled, akin to the "Dream Team" of 1992 that brought Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson together.

Wright played in nine East-West all star games, batting .355 combined. In the '37 game, Wright was the star of stars as he batted third, blasted two singles and a double and led the East to a 7-2 win. He also made the defensive gem of the day when he sprinted in from center to snare a blooper off the bat of Newt Allen.

Wright was the goat in the '45 game when he lost two fly balls in the sun that led to a West's 9-6 victory.#

Wright, who had jumped the Negro Leagues to play in Mexico several times earlier in his career, only to return to the United States, left the Negro Leagues for good in 1945 and played another decade in the Mexican League.

During his many years in Mexico, Wright was one of the most popular players because of his diverse talents and charisma.

One season, Wright led the Mexican League in stolen bases and batting average, and another season he won the Triple Crown (league leader in average, homers and RBIs). That season he also only trailed the league leader in stolen bases by one!

He was elected to the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

After retiring as a player, Wright continued to live in Mexico, and opened a successful restaurant named "Bill Wright's Dugout."

There may not have been more than a handful of better all-around Negro Leaguers in Negro League history than Wild Bill Wright.

*From "The Negro Baseball Leagues," by James A. Riley
#From "The East-West Game" by Larry Lester

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