Reviewing Willie Wells El Diablo of the Negro Leagues

Luke Bob’s Willie Wells: “El Diablo” of the Negro Leagues is a biography of former Negro Leagues player and member of the baseball hall of fame Willie Wells. As always, reading about the great players from the Negro Leagues left me feeling a mix of outrage and disappointment. The idea that those incredible ballplayers were denied the chance to play Major League Baseball simply because they were black is so typically American and terribly sad.

Had I been alive when Willie Wells played and managed, he would have been my kind of player. Wells wasn’t the best hitter. He wasn’t the best fielder (he was primarily a shortstop). He wasn’t the fastest runner. But Wells was a very good hitter, fielder, and runner. More than that, he was an incredibly intelligent, instinctual player who truly loved the game of baseball.

In his three decades as a player and manager, Wells got the most out of his ability and got the most out of a lot of the men he led. His ability to judge talent and character resulted in the owners of his teams relying on his judgement when constructing teams. That was something that simply didn’t happen for most black men during Wells career.

Like all great players in the Negro Leagues whose prime years happened before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s embarrassing color line, Wells is not well known. Even though he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, eight years after his death, Wells is not known by most baseball fans. But Wells, like so many of the Negro League players wasn’t nearly as bitter as he had a right to have been. Until his death he loved baseball. As his sight failed, he listened to countless games on the radio and sat inches from the television screen, hoping to see a bit of the game he loved so much.

Thanks to the discrimination he faced, Wells worked in a New York deli after the Negro Leagues folded because no Major League team offered him any work. When his mother got sick, he went back to Austin, Texas to take care of her. When he died in 1989, Wells was living in poverty and relying on Meals on Wheels for food.

Players not half as good as Wells were living lives of luxury in their so-called golden years simply because their white skin allowed them to play Major League Baseball. Wells, on the other hand, was waiting for Meals on Wheels and looking forward to talking to the person who brought his food.

If you are a baseball fan and you enjoy learning about the Negro Leagues and the players America robbed of their place in history, you will enjoy reading about Willie Wells.

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