Ken Williams (baseball)

Kenneth Roy Williams (June 28, 1890 – January 22, 1959) was an American professional baseball player.[1] He played as an outfielder in Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1915 to 1929. Williams began his major league career with the Cincinnati Reds before spending the majority of his playing days with the St. Louis Browns, and ended his career playing for the Boston Red Sox.[1] He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.[1] In 1922, Williams became the first player in MLB history to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season.[2]

Ken Williams
Williams in 1922
Left fielder
Born: (1890-06-28)June 28, 1890
Grants Pass, Oregon, U.S.
Died: January 22, 1959(1959-01-22) (aged 68)
Grants Pass, Oregon, U.S.
Batted: Left
Threw: Right
MLB debut
July 14, 1915, for the Cincinnati Reds
Last MLB appearance
August 10, 1929, for the Boston Red Sox
MLB statistics
Batting average.319
Home runs196
Runs batted in916
Career highlights and awards

Professional baseball career

Williams began his professional baseball career in 1913 at the age of 23, playing for the Regina Red Sox of the Western Canada League.[3] In 1914, he played for the Edmonton Eskimos before moving to the Spokane Indians in 1915.[3] After posting a .340 batting average in 79 games for the Indians, he made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds on July 14, 1915.[1] He hit for a .242 average in 71 games for the Reds during the peak of the dead-ball era when only 6 players in the league hit above the .300 mark.[4] He played in only 10 games for the Reds in 1916, spending most of the season with Spokane and with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League.[1][3] Williams hit 24 home runs along with a .313 batting average for Portland in 1917 before being purchased by the St. Louis Browns.[3]

Williams was drafted into the United States Army in April 1918, and appeared in only two games for the Browns that season.[5] He returned to the Browns in 1919 and hit .300 with 6 home runs in 65 games.[1] In 1920, Major League Baseball outlawed specialty pitches such as the spitball and experienced a subsequent jump in the league batting averages as well as home runs.[6] In Williams' first full season as a regular player in 1920, he posted a .307 batting average along with 10 home runs and 72 runs batted in.[1] He continued to improve in 1921 with a .347 batting average with 24 home runs, 117 runs batted in and a career-high .429 on-base percentage.[1]

Williams had the best season of his career in 1922, leading the American League with 39 home runs and 155 runs batted in, as the Browns finished the season one game behind the pennant-winning New York Yankees.[1][7] 32 of his 39 home runs were hit at home in Sportsman's Park.[8] On August 7, 1922, during a game against the Washington Senators, he became the first player in American League history to hit two home runs in one inning.[9][10] His 39 home runs topped Babe Ruth, who had led the league the previous four seasons, although Ruth had been suspended well into the 1922 season by Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for violating a curb on barnstorming.[2][11] Williams was one of only two players to break Babe Ruth's twelve-year string in which he led the American League in home runs (the other being Bob Meusel).[11] Also in 1922, Williams also became the first player in major league history to have 30 home runs and 30-plus stolen bases in the same season; a feat which would not be achieved again until Willie Mays accomplished it with the New York Giants in 1956.[11]

In August 1923, the Washington Senators came into possession of one of Williams' bats and discovered that it had been bored out and plugged with a lighter wood.[12] The bat was turned over to National League umpire George Hildebrand for investigation and the Senators protested all the victories by the Browns in which Williams had used the bat.[12] Williams explained that he had ordered the bat specially made, but when he received it, he found it to be too heavy, so he plugged it with a lighter wood.[12] He was cited in the 1924 Reach Guide for using a corked bat, although major league baseball hadn't ruled plugged bats illegal at the time.[11][13] He finished the 1923 season with a career-high .357 batting average along with 29 home runs and 91 runs batted in and ended the season 15th in Most Valuable Player Award balloting.[1][14]

In November 1924, it was rumored that the Yankees were trying to trade for Williams, which would have teamed him with Ruth to make one of the most powerful home run combinations in baseball. However, St. Louis manager George Sisler's insistence on the Yankees trading Waite Hoyt for Williams was too high a price for Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert.[15]

Williams had another productive season in 1925, hitting .331 with 25 home runs and 105 runs batted in, and led the league with a .613 slugging percentage.[1] Williams continued to hit well for the remainder of his career with St. Louis until December 15, 1927, when he was purchased by the Boston Red Sox for $10,000.[1] He played two more seasons for the Red Sox, hitting for a .345 average in 1929 at the age of 39.[1] Williams returned to the minor leagues in 1930 to play two more seasons for the Portland Beavers before retiring in 1931 at the age of 41.[3]

Career statistics

In a fourteen-year major league career, Williams played in 1,397 games, accumulating 1,552 hits in 4,862 at bats for a .319 career batting average along with 196 home runs, 916 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .393.[1] Of his 196 home runs, 142 came at his home park.[16] He retired with a .958 fielding percentage.[1] As baseball evolved out of the dead-ball era, Williams finished in the top four in the American League in home runs in seven consecutive seasons (1921–1927). He posted ten seasons with a batting average above .300, and three seasons in which he scored more than 100 runs.[1] As of 2016, Williams' .319 career batting average ranked 53rd all-time in major league history.[17] His .924 career on-base plus slugging percentage and his .530 career slugging percentage ranked 45th and 48th respectively all-time among major league players.[18][19] Williams holds the St. Louis Browns / Baltimore Orioles single season record for runs batted in with 155 in 1922.[20] He is the St. Louis Browns' all-time leader in on-base percentage (.403), slugging percentage (.558) and OPS (.961).[20] In the 2001 book The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James ranked Williams as the 50th greatest left fielder of all-time.[13]


Williams returned to Grants Pass and worked as a police officer before becoming owner and operator of the Owl Club, a restaurant and billiard parlor on G Street.[21][22]

See also


  1. "Ken Williams". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  2. Vass, George (August 1999). 20th Century All-Overlooked Stars. Baseball Digest. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  3. "Ken Williams Minor League Statistics". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  4. "1915 American League Batting Leaders". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  5. "Ken Williams To Answer Call For Military Draft". The Deseret News. 13 April 1918. p. 5. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  6. Evolution of the Ball. Rawlings Trade Digest. July 1963. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  7. "1922 American League Team Statistics and Standings". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  8. Most Home Runs Hit At Home, One Season. Baseball Digest. September 1992. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  9. "Two home runs in one inning". Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  10. "August 7, 1922 Senators-Browns box score". Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  11. Vass, George (July 2004). Baseball's Forgotten Stars. Baseball Digest. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
  12. "Two-Piece Bat Of Ken Williams Causes Protest". The Victoria Advocate. 22 August 1923. p. 5. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  13. James, Bill (2001). The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: Free Press. p. 686. ISBN 0-684-80697-5.
  14. "1923 Most Valuable Player Award Balloting Results". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  15. "Yanks Are After Kenneth Williams". The News and Courier. Universal Service. 12 November 1924. p. 6. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  16. James, Bill (2001). The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York: Free Press. p. 129. ISBN 0-684-80697-5.
  17. "Career Leaders & Records for Batting Average". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  18. "Career Leaders & Records for On-Base Plus Slugging". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  19. "Career Leaders & Records for Slugging Percentage". Baseball Reference. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  20. "Baltimore Orioles Team Records". Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  21. Grants Pass Daily Courier, Downtown Tidbits, September 11, 2008
  22. Josephine County Historical Society, Looking Back: Ken Williams, Young at Heart magazine, February 2012, page 10
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