Native Texan Willie Wells was a True Baseball Devil

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Tony Maples Photography


Austin native Willie Wells had an intimidating nickname. Known as “The Devil” to other players, this Texan was a phenomenal shortstop who played for 24 years. He was also the first baseball player to wear a batting helmet, after a concussion injury occurred. In the sport between the years of 1924 to 1954, Wells played for and managed various teams in the Negro leagues and in Latin America.

After high school, Wells began to play professional baseball in 1923, as a member of the Austin Black Senators of the Texas Colored League, a minor league for the Negro National League (NNL). He then was called up to the NNL team, the St. Louis Stars, in 1924. In 1929, he journeyed to Cuba, playing in the new integrated Cuban league. That year, Wells was voted Most Valuable Player. Next, he played for the Chicago American Giants, and afterward, the Newark Eagles from 1936 to 1939.

Native Texan Willie Wells was a True Baseball Devil

Photo: @Gravityx9 via Twenty20

While playing in Mexico for the years 1940 and 1941, Wells was nicknamed El Diablo by fans for his amazing concentration. The nickname followed him when he returned to the United States in 1942 as a player-manager for the Newark Eagles. He played in Mexico for the 1943 and 1944 seasons, then came back to the U.S. in 1945. After playing for various Negro league teams through the 1950 season, Wells went to Canada as a player-manager for the Winnipeg Buffaloes, remaining there until 1954. Then it was back to the U.S. to manage the Birmingham Black Barons.

After retiring from baseball, Wells returned to Austin in order to care for his mother. He remained in the Lone Star State until his passing of congestive heart failure on January 22, 1989. In 1997, Willie Wells was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was additionally inducted into the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame, and Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame. His recorded statistics include .319 career batting average, .510 slugging percentage, 98 home runs, 644 runs scored, 399 runs batted in, and 756 games played.