By Glen Sparks
They called him “No Neck”, and it stuck.
Walt Williams liked the nickname, or he hated it. That depends on what article you read. Williams, 72, died Jan. 23 in Brownwood, Texas.
No Neck played 10 seasons in the majors (1964, 1967-75). He put on the uniform for the Houston Colt .45’s, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. He hit 33 home runs and drove in 173 runs. Modest numbers. Mostly, fans remember him for being No Neck.
This is the story behind that unique nickname: Born Dec. 19, 1943, in Brownwood, Williams entered the world just as a major flood hit central Texas. Local doctors decided to inoculate residents against typhus, as legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray explained in an article about Williams.
Even as a baby, the muscles on little Walt bulged. The doctors looked for a good vein to issue a shot. Only the neck would do.
Well, Walt Williams didn’t get typhus. But, he did get a serious crick in that neck. His head titled sideways, Murray wrote, “like a guy listening at a crack in the door.” Eventually, the stiff neck began to shrink. And shrink.
Williams grew to a compact 5-feet-6. He sported a muscular chest and, yes, no neck. Or, well, a very, very short neck.
Still, he did what every young boy dreams to do. Houston signed him as an amateur free agent in 1963. He debuted with the Colt .45’s on April 21, 1964. Williams played just 10 games for Houston before being let go. The St. Louis Cardinals picked him up, sent him to the minors and traded him to the White Sox on Dec. 14, 1966.
No Neck enjoyed his best season in 1969. He set career highs in games (135) at-bats (471), runs (59), hits (143), doubles (22) and batting average (.304) for Chicago. And, he always hustled. Fans loved No Neck.
In 1971, Williams belted a career-high eight homers and batted .294 in 397 at-bats. He didn’t walk a bunch, that year or any other. (Just 24 times. He topped out at 26 bases on balls in ’69. No Neck was up there to hit.)
But, he didn’t strike out much, either. Pitchers fanned Williams only 27 times in 1971. He struck out only 211 times in 2,373 career at-bats.
Following a six-year run on the south side of Chicago, Williams headed to the Indians in 1973. He stayed just one year and then went to the Yankees. No Neck only got into 43 games in 1974. He played 82 in ’75, averaging .281 and smacking five homers.
New York released Williams in January 1976. No Neck played a few seasons for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan and in Mexico. He served as White Sox first-base coach in 1988 and managed in the minors for a few years.
Williams, who went to high school in San Francisco, returned to Brownwood following his playing days. The Brownwood Bulletin newspaper reported that he enjoyed working with local youth. He taught kids how to play baseball, basketball and other sports.
“He was instrumental to this community,” said Draco Miller, one of Williams’ good friends and a Brownwood City Council member. “He was a mentor.”
Services for the former ballplayer will be Saturday at Victory Life Church in Brownwood. RIP, Walt “No Neck” Williams.