Lefty Williams

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Lefty Williams
Born: (1893-03-09)March 9, 1893
Aurora, Missouri
Died: November 4, 1959(1959-11-04) (aged 66)
Laguna Beach, California
Batted: Right Threw: Left
MLB debut
September 17, 1913 for the Detroit Tigers
Last MLB appearance
September 25, 1920 for the Chicago White Sox
Career statistics
Win-loss record 82–48
Earned run average 3.13
Strikeouts 515
Career highlights and awards

Claude Preston "Lefty" Williams (March 9, 1893 – November 4, 1959) was an American pitcher in Major League Baseball. He is probably best known for his involvement in the 1919 World Series fix, known as the Black Sox scandal.

Early life

Born in Aurora, Missouri on March 9, 1893, Claude Preston Williams was the son of William and Mary Williams. During his early childhood, Williams’ family moved to Springfield, Missouri where he began playing baseball in vacant lots. It was during his childhood where Williams took to pitching as a left-hander (thus the nickname “Lefty”), developing a curveball that became notorious among his peers.1 Williams’ local fame gave him the opportunity to play for the Springfield team of the semipro Missouri-Kansas League. By 1912, Williams joined the Morristown, Tennessee team of the Appalachian League where he led the league in strikeouts with 224 and posted a record of 18-11. In 1913 “Lefty” once again recorded 18 wins, this time playing for the Nashville Volunteers in the Southern Association. At the end of the 1913 season, the Detroit Tigers purchased his contract and Williams started four times for the Tigers only winning once. In May 1914, Williams made his final start for the Tigers, allowing five unearned runs in one inning. Following his final Tigers’ performance, Williams would spend two years developing as a pitcher in the Pacific Coast League for Sacramento as well as Salt Lake City. It was in Salt Lake City where Williams met Lyria Wilson, who was working as a manicurist. The two would marry in June 1916. Following 1915, the Chicago White Sox purchased Williams’ contract.

Career with White Sox

In his inaugural season with the White Sox in 1916, Williams started more games than any other member of the pitching staff with a record of 13-7 and 138 strikeouts. However, Williams reliance on the curveball coupled with his lack of power caused him to compile a 2.89 ERA, which was highest on the team as well as being higher than the league average.1 Williams’ success despite his ERA was attributed to run support and defense from second baseman Eddie Collins and outfielders "Happy Felsch" and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.2 In 1917, Williams’ 2.97 ERA as well as his 85 strikeouts were both regressions from his 1916 performance, despite finishing the year with a 17-8 record and winning nine consecutive games to start the season. The White Sox would go on to defeat the New York Giants in the World Series, where Williams would only appear as a relief pitcher in one of the six games. In was in 1917 and 1918 where Williams began rooming with teammate Joe Jackson. The two became close friends and when the United States war effort escalated during World War I, both players, along with catcher Byrd Lynn, chose to work in the Navy Shipyards in an effort to avoid the draft.1 Williams would only play ten games in 1918, finishing with a record of 6-4. Williams, Jackson and Lynn’s actions were deemed unpatriotic by team owner Charlie Comiskey, who blacklisted the three, a sentence suffered by many players who had also chosen to avoid the draft. However, following the end of the war in November, 1918 and the White Sox sixth place finish, Comiskey chose to reinstate the three players.1

1919 World Series and the "Black Sox" Scandal

It was during the 1919 season that Williams would gain the most notoriety as being a part of the “Black Sox” scandal. Due to baseball’s “Reserve Clause”, all players were property of the team they were under contract with; regardless of if they were satisfied with said contract. Williams, along with his fellow White Sox teammates were all being vastly underpaid by their owner Charlie Comiskey (Williams salary was only $2,600 a year). Comiskey would even go so far as to sit Pitcher Eddie Cicotte during the final days of the season to ensure that he wouldn’t have to pay Williams a bonus if he met the thirty win mark.3 It was for these reasons that led eight members of the White Sox (including Williams), led by first baseman Chick Gandil, to become involved in a plan to fix the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds for payment. The eight players involved were Chick Gandil, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Buck Weaver, Eddie Cicotte, “Swede” Risberg, Fred McMullin, “Lefty” Williams and Joe Jackson. Gandil facilitated the dealings between gamblers Sport Sullivan, Bill Burns and Billy Maharg, and mobsters Arnold Rothstein with Abe Atell. Out of the eight players, only four received payment during the series; Eddie Cicotte received $10,000, Joe Jackson and “Lefty” Williams received $5,000 a piece and Gandil pocketed allegedly $30,000 for himself. After eight games played, Williams pitched three, losing all of them including the final game, and the Cincinnati Reds won the 1919 Series.1 Williams’ poor performance was even more surprising due to his regular season 23-11 record.4 Shortly after the series was complete, word of a fix spread through the sports community. However it wasn’t until the end of the 1920 regular season (where Williams had his most productive season on the White Sox with a record of 22-14) that the fix attracted the attention of the Cook County Grand Jury. On October 22, 1920, the grand jury indicted the eight White Sox players as well as Sport Sullivan, Bill Burns and Abe Atell on nine counts of conspiracy to defraud various individuals and institutions. The eight players were all present for arraignment on February 14, 1921, however none of the gamblers were. On July 29th, after five months of proceedings, it took the jury less than three hours to deliberate. All eight players were found not guilty. Still, shortly after the verdict, the newly appointed commissioner of baseball and former federal Judge Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis released a statement saying: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball." From that moment on, all eight members of the “Black Sox Scandal” were sentenced to a lifetime ban from the game of professional baseball.1

Life after Baseball and Death

After being banned for life, Claude “Lefty” Williams would go on to play on barnstorming teams with fellow “Black Sox” teammates from 1921-1925. Williams moved to Arizona in 1926, playing in the “outlaw” Copper League in 1926 and 1927. When his playing career was over, Williams and his wife moved to Laguna Beach, California. There, he started a landscaping and nursery business. Williams and his wife maintained their residence in California, having no children, until his death on November 4, 1959 at the age of 66. Williams was buried in Melrose Abbey Memorial Park in Anaheim, California.1 During his seven year career in the Major Leagues, Williams had a record of 82-48, an ERA of 3.13 and struck out 515 batters.5

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Lefty Williams". sabr.org.
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