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Encyclopedia > Willie Wells

Willie Wells (August 10, 1905 - January 22, 1989) was a professional baseball player who played from 1924-48 for various teams in the Negro Leagues.

Wells was born in Austin, Texas. A star in both baseball and football in high school, Wells first played professional baseball in 1923, playing one season for the Black Senators of the Texas Negro League, a minor league for the Negro National League. 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. He played in Mexico in 1940 and 1941, 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. He returned to the U.S. in 1945 and 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 baseball in 1954.

Nicknamed El Diablo by Mexican fans for his extraordinary intensity, Wells was a superb all-around player. He was a fast baserunner who hit for both power and average. But Wells, a shortstop, 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 also taught Jackie Robinson the art of the double play.

He was also notable as being the first player to use a batting helmet after being hit and getting a concussion while playing with the Newark Eagles. His first helmet was a construction helmet.

After his baseball career, Wells was employed at a New York City deli before returning to his birthplace of Austin, Texas, to look after his mother. Wells himself slowed down late in his life and had to rely on Social Security and private welfare for his survival, while retired white players of far lesser accomplishments were comfortably retired. When he was finally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, he had been dead for nine years.

Known Statistics: .328 career batting average, 126 home runs, 945 games played

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