Will Owens

(©Paul Debono)

"When I was learning how to play pool I hung around the pool room all the time and a friend, Clyde Woodson, said that I wasn't gonna work until Gabriel blew his trumpet! I tell you--the life I have lived!"
--Will Owen

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Negro Leaguer of the Month
August, 2004

Will "Gabie" Owens

Born: Nov. 14, 1901 in Indianapolis, IN
Died: May 5, 1999
Ht:5'-10", Wt: 175
Batted right and threw right.
Position: shortstop, second base, third base
Years: 1923-1933
Teams: Indianapolis ABCs, Memphis Red Sox, Detroit Stars, Chicago American Giants, Dayton Marcos, Cleveland Elites, Cleveland Hornets, Harrisburg Giants, Brooklyn Royal Giants, Birmingham Black Barons

Born to slave parents, Will Owen lived to the ripe old age of 98 and was the last surviving member of the Eastern Colored League (Brooklyn Royal Giants 1937).

Owens grew up at the turn of the 20th century in Indianapolis, and was a fan of the local ABCs named for the American Brewing Company. It was at the ABC games that Owen fell in love with baseball and its superstar Oscar Charleston.

"You could hear the fans," remembered Owens. 'Oscar, Oscar, Oscar! Oscar’s up!'"

Owens started as a catcher on the sandlots with an integrated team, and, hard as it is to believe, played without a mask.

"I never got hit in the face," explained Ownes. "I would always put my glove right up to my face. I could judge the ball, and when a guy would strike at the ball, my glove would be right over my face."

After playing with some local team, Owens was discovered by the Washington D.C. Potomacs in 1923. After a short stint with the Chicago American Giants, Owens' baseball dream came true when he was signed by his hometown ABCs.

Owens was a slick-fielding shortstop, a slap hitter and fine bunter. He usually batted in the .270 range.

Like most fine shortstops, Owens had his share of favorite fielding plays. He once went high into the air to rob Turkey Stearnes of a hit, after which his manager, Bingo DeMoss, said it was one of the greatest plays he'd ever seen.

But, it was a triple play that Owens was most proud of. Here's Owens description:

"There were three men on base and the score was--I think we had 'em 8-6. A guy named Cooper hit a line drive to me and I had to jump way up and I snared the ball -- I was scared when I did come down that the ball was gonna come out of my glove -- and I throwed the ball to second, and from second I threw the ball to first.That made the triple play! That was one of the greatest plays I ever made."

After one season with the ABCs, Owens had short stints with several teams, then came back to the ABCs in 1932. The new manager, Candy Jim Taylor, criticized Owens after he made a few errors, and Owens quit the team. After one last season with the Detroit Stars, Owens retired from baseball for good.

Owens quit school in the 6th grade (something he regretted years later), and spent much of his freetime in an Indianapolis pool hall, so it was no surprise to his friends that he became a professional pool player after retiring from baseball. Owens played all over the country, and once played a match against Minnesota Fats.

Owens also was an accomplished carpenter and general handyman.

In 1996, Owens was given an honorary GED from an Indianapolis high school.

I'd like to give a special thanks to Indianapolis ABCs researcher Paul Debono for arranging my interview with Will Owens in 1993. I highly recommend his book on the ABCs. Click here to order this book.


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