Willie Wells

Willie James Wells (August 10, 1906[1] January 22, 1989), nicknamed "The Devil," was an American baseball player. He was a shortstop who played from 1924 to 1948 for various teams in the Negro leagues and in Latin America.

Willie Wells
Born: (1906-08-10)August 10, 1906
Austin, Texas
Died: January 22, 1989(1989-01-22) (aged 82)
Austin, Texas
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
1924, for the St. Louis Giants
Last appearance
1948, for the Memphis Red Sox
Negro leagues statistics
Batting average.331
Home runs140
Runs batted in879
Stolen bases160
Negro leagues

Mexican League

  • Veracruz (1940–41, 1944)
  • Tampico (1943)
  • Mexico City (1944)

As Manager

Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Election methodVeterans Committee

Wells was a fast base-runner 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.[2]

Wells was also notable as being the first player to use a batting helmet, after being hit and receiving a concussion while playing with the Newark Eagles (his first helmet was a construction helmet).

Wells is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Early life

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 Colored League, a minor league for the Negro National League.[2] He briefly attended Samuel Huston College in Austin before he was called up to the St. Louis team in the NNL.

Negro league career

After a short stint with the St. Louis Giants,[3] he entered the NNL with the St. Louis Stars in 1924, playing for the Stars through 1931, when both the team and league folded after the 1931 season. In 1926 he hit 27 home runs, a Negro leagues single-season record. In 1930, he led the Negro National League in home runs (seventeen), runs batted in (114), and batting average (.411) to win the batting Triple Crown; he was the fourth player to achieve the distinction. From 1932 to 1935 he played for the Chicago American Giants and played for the Newark Eagles from 1936 to 1939. While with the Eagles, Wells was part of the "Million Dollar Infield," consisting of Wells, Ray Dandridge, Dick Seay, and Mule Suttles.[4]:p.55

He played in Mexico in 1940 and 1941, where he said 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.[2] 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, including the Memphis Red Sox where he played alongside his son Willie Wells Jr. in 1948. 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.[2] Wells was originally buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Austin, Texas, but 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 Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame.[2]

Known statistics: .319 career batting average, .510 slugging percentage, 98 home runs, 644 runs scored, 399 runs batted in, and 756 games played.[5]

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 also

  • Disch Field


  1. 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.
  2. Chamy, Michael (July 4, 2003). "El Diablo". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  3. St. Louis Giants at Seamheads.com
  4. 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.
  5. 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
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