Wallace "Bucky" Williams, one of the oldest people to play for both of Pittsburgh's legendary Negro League teams, died Monday at age 102 at his home in Penn Hills.
If he had been white, he might have made a living playing baseball. Instead, he and his teammates passed a hat at their games and were lucky if they ended up with pocket change.
"He just loved to play," said his sister, Veronica Ford, 90, of Penn Hills. "He would be upset when they lost but he always said, 'There will be another game coming.' "
One game earned him a mention in the Pittsburgh Courier alongside one of the Negro Leagues' greatest sluggers, Josh Gibson, whose name was misspelled.
"Leading the attack against the Woodmen was Bucky Williams and Josh Gipson, with four hits each," said the article on June 21, 1930, when he and Mr. Gibson helped the Pittsburgh Crawfords defeat a semipro team sponsored by a woodworking shop.
Mr. Williams was mentioned again years later, when his team of Edgar Thomson steelworkers defeated the mighty Homestead Grays by a 4-2 score. Shortly after his 100th birthday, a reporter wondered aloud if Grays stars like Mr. Gibson, Buck Leonard and Judy Johnson played that day. Mr. Williams laughed.
"They were all playing. They were awful good players. We beat 'em all right," he said proudly.
Mr. Williams was born on Dec. 15, 1906, in Baltimore, the third of Mathilda and Joseph Williams' eight children. When he was 6 months old, his family moved to Formosa Way in Homewood. He attended Holy Rosary and Crescent Elementary schools, dropping out after seventh or eighth grade.
He played his first baseball at Homewood Field, now called Willie Stargell Field. He said he was always a good fielder and hitter -- mostly singles and doubles, few home runs. But he was not very quick on the base paths.
In addition to the Crawfords and Grays, Mr. Williams played for the Pittsburgh Keystone Juniors, the Pittsburgh Monarchs and a black team sponsored by the Edgar Thomson Steel Works, where he worked as a ladle liner for 30 years, retiring in 1971.
He joined the Crawfords in 1928, and by 1930, Mr. Gibson, Mr. Williams and the rest were the best sandlot team around, drawing hundreds and sometimes thousands to Ammon Field in the Hill District.
Mr. Williams shows up occasionally in the Crawfords' box scores through 1932, but then apparently went back to the Edgar Thomson team.
Playing home games about a block from the mill in Braddock, he met Marjorie Carey of Swissvale. Soon, he noticed that she was coming to their away games, too. In 1936, he married her at St. Benedict the Moor Church in the Hill District. They had one child, David, and moved to Swissvale.
In 1936, Mr. Williams' name showed up in box scores for the Grays. A year later, he was back with the Crawfords, and apparently was still with them when the team folded in 1939. In the 1940s, he played for the Monarchs in a city league. Later, after moving to East Liberty, he was an umpire when his son played in the East End Little League Association.
His wife died in 1977, and he eventually went to live with his son and daughter-in-law Sheila in Penn Hills.
He flew for the first time in his life in the mid-'90s, when he and his son attended the opening of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City. He was older than most of the returning players but enjoyed himself nonetheless.
"He liked being the center of attention," Mrs. Williams said. "He would wave like a beauty pageant winner."
He regularly attended the black-tie gala held every year by the Josh Gibson Foundation. Executive Director Sean Gibson, the slugger's great-grandson, said he worried every year that health problems would sideline him.
"But every time the gala came around, he was there. We were just pleased to have him," Mr. Gibson said.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at Spriggs & Watson Funeral Home in Homewood and 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, also in Homewood. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Holy Rosary, followed by burial at Calvary Cemetery.
Kevin Kirkland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1978.