Willie Wells


After Wells stole home to beat a Major League all-star team, the Chicago Defender wrote:

"They dug up their big leaguers but the Giants [Wells' team] were loaded. A good big team of brown baseball men beat a good big team of white baseball men and the white fans went down hook, line and sinker Sunday, half of the 4700 fans being pale faces."

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©Copyright 2000-2001, Kyle McNary, McNary Publishing


Negro Leaguer of the Month
January, 2001

Willie "Devil" Wells

Career: 1924-1953
Batted: Right; Threw: Right
HT: 5'-8"; WT: 165 lbs.
Born: August 10, 1905
Died: January 22, 1989

Teams: St. Louis Stars, Homestead Grays, Chicago American Giants, Memphis Red Sox, Newark Eagles, Kansas City Monarchs, Winnipeg Buffaloes

Willie was no less than the greatest Negro League shortstop of the 1930s and 1940s, and, according to some players, the best player period.

Firstly, Wells was a great fielder. Most remember him as having an average arm, but he was an expert at studying batters and positioning. He didn't miss much. "If the ball took a bad hop, his glove took a bad hop."

Secondly, he could hit; he was, pound-for-pound, the best hitter in the Negro Leagues. He batted in the mid to high .300s and had power. In 1929, Willie blasted 27 homers in 88 games!

Thirdly, Wells was smart. "If he gave you a signal for a pitchout, do what he says because he was right every time," remarked Double Duty Radcliffe.

As an added bonus, "The Devil" was tough. He played the game the way old-timers always say the game should be played. He sharpened his spikes, slid hard, took the extra base and played hurt. If a runner came hard into second, Wells would tag him in the middle of the forehead.

Following the 1929 season, Wells showed the baseball world what brand of ball was being played in the Negro Leagues when he "stole" a series of games against a Major League all-star team featuring Hall of Famers Heinie Manush, Harry Heilmann and Charlie Gehringer (7 batting titles between them).

In the first game of the series, Wells tripled and stole home– kicking the ball out of the catcher's glove–to win the game. In the second game, Wells tripled twice and again stole home! In the third and last game, Willie belted three hits and drove in the winning run.

In more than 25 games against big leaguers, Wells batted around .400.

Willie ended his playing career as player-manager in Canada for the Winnipeg Buffaloes in the Man-Dak League. Double Duty Radcliffe was the player-manager for the same town's Winnipeg Elmwood Giants. Willie could still hit, but he was nearing 50 and caught many games.

Willie was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.