October 8, 2004

October 8, 2004

Sourced from pittsburghcatholic.org
America's Oldest Catholic Newspaper In Continuous Publication             
with author's permission

Bases loaded with memories
by: John Franko

He played more than 60 years ago, but Wallace “Bucky” Williams still gets a twinkle in his eyes when he talks about his days as a player in the Negro Leagues.

As a member of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, then the Homestead Grays, he played with greats such as Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Buck O’Neil.

Williams, 97, has fond memories of Gibson’s legendary hitting and Paige’s masterful pitching.

“He was the greatest pitcher I ever saw,” said Williams, a member of St. Charles Lwanga Parish in Pittsburgh’s East End.

A lifetime .340 hitter, Williams played third base and shortstop. He played for the Crawfords from 1927-32, then came back with the Grays in 1936. He had earlier played with the sandlot Pittsburgh Monarchs. Williams recalled a game in which he played against the infamous “Cool Papa” Bell.

Bell dropped a perfect bunt in front of Williams his first time up and beat the throw to first. He tried it again the next time at bat, but Williams nailed him with a barehanded strike to first.

“He wasn’t as fast as he thought he was,” Williams said.

When his playing days in the Negro Leagues were over, he continued playing for many years in area sandlot leagues. He worked at the Edgar Thompson Works of U.S. Steel in Braddock and was a member of the company team.

Ironically, one of his greatest memories is of his Edgar Thompson team defeating the Grays in an exhibition game.

Williams also umpired for a number of years in the East End Little League Association, where his son, David, was a player.

Williams was named an honorary member of the Negro League Hall of Fame several years ago. In 1995, he traveled to Kansas City for a gathering of Negro League greats.

He has many happy memories of being with his teammates on and off the field, and it pains him that very few of them are still alive. He is also saddened by the fact that very few young people know much about the Negro Leagues.

Williams has been a guest of the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, and he occasionally connects with players he competed against.

He isn’t bitter that some of the greatest players of his day were denied access to the major leagues because of the racial barriers of the time, and he still enjoys watching baseball on television.

“I think they’re pretty good,” he says of today’s players. “I’ve never seen guys (infielders) pick up balls as fast as they do.”

Williams’ wife, Marjorie, a baseball enthusiast in her own right, died in 1980.