August 10, 1906|
|Died: January 22, 1989
|1924, for the St. Louis Stars|
|1948, for the Memphis Red Sox|
|Negro League statistics|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Election Method||Veterans’ Committee|
Willie James Wells (August 10, 1906 – January 22, 1989), nicknamed "The Devil," was an American baseball player. He was a shortstop who played from 1924-48 for various teams in the Negro leagues and in Latin America.
Wells was a fast baserunner who hit for both power and average. He was at his finest with his glove, committing almost no errors and having the speed to run down anything that came in his direction. He is widely considered the best black shortstop of his day. He also taught Jackie Robinson how to turn a double play.
He is a member of the baseball halls of fame in the United States, Cuba and Mexico.
Wells was born in Austin, Texas. He attended Anderson High School in Austin. Wells first played professional baseball in 1923, playing one season for the Austin Black Senators of the Texas Negro League, a minor league for the Negro National League. He briefly attended Samuel Huston College in Austin before he was called up to the St. Louis team in the NNL.
Negro league career
He entered the NNL with the St. Louis Stars in 1924, playing for the Stars until the franchise dissolved after the 1931 season. In 1926 he hit 27 home runs, a Negro League single-season record. From 1932 to 1935 he played for the Chicago American Giants and played for the Newark Eagles from 1936 to 1939. While a player with the Eagles, Wells was part of the "Million Dollar Infield," consisting of Wells, Ray Dandridge, Dick Seay, and Mule Suttles.:p.55
He played in Mexico in 1940 and 1941, where he said that he experienced democracy, acceptance and freedom. Wells was nicknamed El Diablo by Mexican fans for his extraordinary intensity and the English translation ("The Devil") followed him as a nickname in the United States. He returned to the Negro Leagues in 1942 as a player-manager for the Eagles and then went back to Mexico for the 1943 and 1944 seasons.
Returning to the U.S. in 1945, Wells played for various Negro league teams through the 1950 season. He then went to Canada as a player-manager for the Winnipeg Buffaloes of the Western Canadian Leagues, remaining there until his retirement from playing baseball in 1954. Wells returned to the U.S. and continued with the sport as manager of the Birmingham Black Barons.
Later life and legacy
After his baseball career, Wells was employed at a New York City deli before returning to his birthplace of Austin to look after his mother. He died of congestive heart failure in Austin in 1989. Wells was originally buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Austin, Texas, and was re-interred in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1997 for his play in the Negro leagues. He has also been inducted into the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.
Stella Lee Wells, Willie's daughter, created a scholarship fund honoring her father, called the Stella and Willie Wells Scholarship Fund. The fund awards scholarships at Huston–Tillotson University in Austin, Texas.
- See Luke 2007, which cites the Texas Department of Health as the source for the 1906 birth year, and Hogan 2006, p. 398. Other sources report a birth year of 1905.
- Chamy, Michael (July 4, 2003). "El Diablo". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
- Grigsby, Daryl Russell (2012). Celebrating Ourselves: African-Americans and the Promise of Baseball. Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 978-160844-798-5. Retrieved 8 August 2012.
- Hogan 2006, pp. 398–401.
- Clark, Dick; Lester, Larry (1994), The Negro Leagues Book, Cleveland, Ohio: Society for American Baseball Research
- Hogan, Lawrence D. (2006), Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, Washington DC: National Geographic, ISBN 0-7922-5306-X
- Holway, John B. (2001), The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues: The Other Half of Baseball History, Fern Park, FL: Hastings House Publishers, ISBN 0-8038-2007-0
- Luke, Bob (2007). Willie Wells: "El Diablo" of the Negro Leagues. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-71751-0.
- Treto Cisneros, Pedro (2002), The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics, 1937–2001, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, ISBN 0-7864-1378-6