I had never heard of Willie Wells.
It was a sunny day, and I was in Cooperstown, N.Y., at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Tommy LaSorda, the colorful former manager of the Dodgers, and Phil Niekro, the knuckleball pitcher from the Braves, had been elected into the Hall’s Class of 1997. The Veterans Committee had voted in Nellie Fox, a slick-fielding second baseman with the White Sox. The Committee also voted in Wells.
Who was Willie Wells? He didn’t enjoy quite the instant name recognition of some other Negro league Hall of Famers. Great players like Josh Gibson and “Cool Papa” Bell. People said Bell was so fast, he could turn out the light in his bedroom and be under the covers before it got dark. You didn’t hear that sort of stuff about Wells.
Experts called Gibson, a great Negro league catcher, the “black Babe Ruth” and said he was truly the mightiest home-run hitter of all. Did Wells hit a lot of home runs?