Earl Williams (1970s catcher)
|Catcher / First baseman|
July 14, 1948|
Newark, New Jersey
|Died: January 28, 2013
Somerset, New Jersey
|September 13, 1970, for the Atlanta Braves|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 25, 1977, for the Oakland Athletics|
|Runs batted in||457|
|Career highlights and awards|
Earl Craig Williams, Jr. (July 14, 1948 – January 28, 2013) was an American Major League Baseball player. Though he never played catcher in the minor leagues, he earned the National League's Rookie of the Year award at that position in 1971.
Williams was born in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in East Orange, and then Montclair, where he was an exceptional athlete at Montclair High School. He earned a scholarship to Ithaca College in upstate New York for basketball. He chose baseball instead when he was drafted by the Milwaukee Braves in the first round of the 1965 Major League Baseball August Legion Draft.
As Williams was a pitcher in high school, he made eight starts his first professional season with the Gulf Coast League Braves, compiling a 1-0 record and 3.10 earned run average. When not pitching, Williams played first base. The idea of Williams as a pitcher was abandoned after the 1966 season, and Williams spent most of his time in the Braves' farm system either at first or in the outfield. In 1970, he also played some third base. He debuted with the Atlanta Braves that September, and batted .368 in ten games split pretty evenly between first and third base.
Williams began the 1971 season as the Braves' starting third baseman. By the end of May, Darrell Evans took over at third, and Williams began seeing more playing time at first base. On May 23, Williams entered a 4-0 loss to the New York Mets at Shea Stadium as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, and remained in the game at catcher. It was his first professional experience behind the plate ever.
He made his first start behind the plate on June 20 against the Cincinnati Reds. George Foster led off the Reds' half of the second inning with a single, then proceeded to take full advantage of Williams' inexperience at his new position. Foster stole second, advanced to third on Williams' throwing error, then stole home to score the first run of the game.
The following day, Williams caught both games of a doubleheader against the Montreal Expos, and caught his first attempted base stealer, Rusty Staub. He ended up appearing in 72 games at catcher, committing eight errors and catching 28% of potential base stealers. On September 10, Williams became the only Braves player besides Hank Aaron to hit a home run into the upper deck at Fulton County Stadium. Aaron was also the first right-handed hitter to do it, and Williams was the second. The feat had been preceded by the left-handed hitters Willie Smith and Willie Stargell.
Although he never developed into more than a poor defensive catcher, his offensive numbers – a .260 batting average, 33 home runs and 87 runs batted in – were enough to earn him 18 of 24 first place votes to become the first Brave to win the Rookie of the Year Award since Sam Jethroe in 1950 with what were then the Boston Braves. The other first place votes went to Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder Willie Montañez.
Though he played some first and third also, Williams spent most of the 1972 season catching. He had a whopping 28 passed balls that season, mostly due to his inability to catch Phil Niekro's knuckleball. However, he also had 28 home runs and 87 RBIs. Following the season, he and infield prospect Taylor Duncan were traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Pat Dobson, Roric Harrison, Davey Johnson and Johnny Oates.
Many Oriole players, most notably ace pitcher Jim Palmer, were critical of this trade. Ironically, Palmer was 13-5 in games in which he pitched to Williams, and went on to win his first Cy Young Award in 1973. Williams batted .237 with 22 home runs and 83 RBIs his first season in the American League. Williams reached the post season for the only time in his career with the Orioles in 1973 and 1974, losing to the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series both years. His only post-season home run came off Ken Holtzman in the 1973 American League Championship Series.
Return to the National League
After the 1974 season, he was traded back to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Jimmy Freeman. He appeared in just eleven games at catcher in 1975, receiving most of his playing time at first base. He batted .240 with a career low eleven home runs in his new role. He began seeing more time behind the plate again in 1976, however, in June his contract was sold to the Montreal Expos, with whom he played mostly first base. For the season, his numbers bounced back somewhat, as he hit seventeen home runs and drove in 55 runs.
The Expos released Williams during Spring training 1977, and he signed with the Oakland A's a few days later. He split his time with the A's fairly evenly between catching, first base and designated hitter. He batted .241 with thirteen home runs and 38 RBIs his only season in Oakland. He was placed on waivers by the A's at the end of Spring training 1978. Failing to find a taker, he was released on May 17.
Williams had a career .984 fielding percentage at catcher. His worst position was third base, where he had a .892 fielding percentage.
Williams died of acute myeloid leukemia at home with his wife Linda and their daughter Raquel at their home in the Somerset section of Franklin Township, Somerset County, New Jersey on January 28, 2013, at the age of 64.
- Weber, Bruce. "Earl Williams, Baseball Slugger, Dies at 64", The New York Times, February 1, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2013.
- Jeffrey Katz. "Earl Williams". The Baseball Biography Project.
- "New York Mets 4, Atlanta Braves 0". Baseball-Reference.com. May 23, 1971.
- "Cincinnati Reds 2, Atlanta Braves 0". Baseball-Reference.com. June 20, 1971.
- Jon Cooper (February 4, 2007). "Move got Williams to Major Leagues". MLB.com.
- "1973 American League Championship Series, Game 3". Baseball-Reference.com. October 9, 1973.
- "Former Braves catcher Earl Williams, a New Jersey native, dies at 64". NJ.com. January 31, 2013.