Sunday, December 30, 2007

In the beginning...

How does an African-American youngster raised by a single mother in rural Texas around the turn of the century become one of the most popular baseball players of his time, and one of the best ballplayers of all time?

You could begin in Orange County, Virginia, where his grandfather Calvin Williams was born into slavery on July 4, 1830. Calvin was orphaned as a child and was raised by a white woman named Adeline Abernathie. As an adult he worked as a farmer in or near Richmond, where he had a front row view of the Civil War. It was there, when Richmond fell to Union troops in April, 1865 that Calvin's adventures began. Without Calvin there would be no Joe Williams. And without Calvin's adventures there probably would be no "Smokey" Joe Williams.

The photograph is of a Richmond slave market that Calvin may have passed through when he arrived in that city from his childhood home in Orange County.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cooperstown 1999

Having no family to represent him, The City of Seguin sent a delegation to Cooperstown to honor "Smokey" Joe Williams at his 1999 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey presented Seguin Mayor Mark Stautzenberger with a sepia of Joe's Hall of Fame plaque on the front steps of the Museum. Negro League All-Star ballplayer Sherwood Brewer is standing immediately behind Mr. Petroskey. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Sherwood Brewer played for the New York Cuban's and the Kansas City Monarchs, under the guidance of Monarch's manager Buck O'Neil. Mr. Brewer passed in 2003 at the age of 79.

Today the Joe Williams Hall of Fame sepia proudly resides in a display case just inside the entrance of the Seguin-Guadalupe County Public Library.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Great Team

One-third of the '31 Homestead Grays baseball team is now enshrined in Baseball's Hall of Fame. They are: "Smokey" Joe Williams (tallest man in back row), Josh Gibson (to Joe's left), George Scales, Oscar Charleston, Jud Wilson and Cumberland Posey (team owner). They had other great ballplayers too, like "Terrible" Ted Page (watch out for those spikes!) and Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe.

With 136 wins and 19 losses that year, catcher "Double Duty" said it best: "Unbelieveable, unbelieveable. We had Owens, Charleston, Williams, George Britt, Bill Foster, Smokey Joe Williams and myself. Now how ya goin' to beat us? We went to Kansas City and beat them seven straight. We beat everybody. We had a team."

Double Duty was the last surviving member of this great team when we met him in 2001. I'll tell you more about that later on.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"Smokey" Joe After Baseball

When "Smokey" Joe Williams retired from baseball around 1932, he worked as a bartender at 547 Lenox Ave. in Harlem. The bar was an attraction for ballplayers who wanted to meet Joe. Buck O'Neil tells of dropping by with his Kansas City Monarchs. Monte Irvin and his friend Roy Campanella were regulars. Joe also did some scouting during this time, sending prospect Buck Leonard to a Hall of Fame career with the Homestead Grays.

The left photo is how the bar looked around 1940 when Joe worked there. On the right is a photo we took in September 2007. It's the storefront with the red awning.

Monte Irvin says that Joe also worked a second bartending job at the smaller Monarch Bar in the same vicinity. Anyone heard of that one?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

In His Prime

We were thrilled to find this photo of Joe Williams in New York City about a year ago. I have never seen it published before. The back of the photo has the handwritten note "Smoky Joe Williams: In his prime." I don't know the date of the photo or the team uniform. Joe had such a long and prolific career, it's hard to pinpoint his "prime" years. Some say it was 1914 when, at 28, he earned 41 wins with only 3 losses. 1917 might be a good pick -- that fall he faced the National League champions New York Giants. He pitched a no-hitter but lost the game on a 10th inning error. Or how about 1930 when, at 44, Joe struck out 27 Kansas City Monarchs under the lights.

Any ideas on Joe's age in the photo?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The old homestead

Joe Williams was born around 1886, not in Seguin as the history books will tell you, but in another small town in Texas. I think I know which one, but I need to do more research before I am certain. Nevertheless, Joe did grow up in Seguin in this home that was built by his mother Lettie before 1900. Can you picture him tossing a baseball with his older brother Jim in the front yard? The house was built on land that was purchased by Joe's grandfather Calvin Williams in 1878. After all of these years, the house is still in the family -- it is owned by two second cousins of Joe, one living in San Antonio and the other in California. I am hoping that the site can be preserved, perhaps as a local memorial or museum dedicated to Joe Williams.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Smokey Joe in Seguin

This is the first post on my blog, which focuses on the life and times of a great ballplayer from Seguin, Texas named Joe Williams. In his playing days he was known as "Cyclone" or "Smokey" Joe Williams. You can read about his career at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This may be the only photo of Joe in Seguin. He is walking south on Austin St., toward his home on S. Guadalupe St. The photo, found at our local Heritage Museum, was taken about 1903.

Hope you enjoy the blog. I have been reserching the life of Joe Williams since 1998, and will post some of my research here.