Wilmer Leon Fields
Nickname: Red, Chinky, Bill
Positions: p, c, 2b, 3b, ss, of
Teams: Homestead Grays (1940-1942, 1946-1950), military service (1943-1945), Canadian League (1951, 1953-1955), minor leagues (1952, 1956-1957), Mexican League (1958)
Height: 6' 3'' Weight: 215
Born: August 2, 1922, Manassas, Virginia
Died: June 4, 2004, Manassas, Virginia
A pitcher with a running fastball complemented by a curve and a slider, and with average control of his pitches, he was an ace on the Homestead Grays' pitching staff that won the last Negro National League championship, in 1948. That season was a good one for Fields, as he registered a 7-1 record in league games, appeared in the All Star game, and also pitched in two World Series games, winning his only decision.
The big right-hander was a hard-throwing seventeen-year-old relying strictly on a fastball while playing with a semi-pro team in Fairfax, Virginia, when he was discovered by the Grays in 1940 and given a tryout. The Grays liked what they saw and added the youngster to the roster. Playing against all levels of opposition, he fashioned a work sheet that showed seasons of 2-1, 13-5, and 15-3 for the three seasons (1940-1942) prior to his entering military service during World War II.
Inducted into the Army in 1943, he was discharged in 1946 and resumed his career with the Grays, posting seasons of 16-1, 14-7, 13-5, 17-2, and 12-2 against all levels of competition until the Grays broke up after the 1950 season. During the last four seasons he also played third base and in the outfield when not pitching, and hit for averages of .233, .286, and .311 for the last three seasons of the Negro National League's existence, 1946-48.
After the Grays disbanded, Fields had five offers from the major leagues but he sent their money back. However, in 1952, owner Jack Kent Cook paid him $14,000 to play with Toronto in the International League, and he hit .299 playing at the AAA level. Sandwiched around this season, he spent four seasons in Branford, Canada, pitching and playing in the outfield, posting pitching records of 11-2, 10-2, 9-3, and 8-0, and batting averages of .382,381,.379, and .425 while winning MVP awards in 1951, 1954, and 1955. He returned to organized baseball in 1956-1957 with Fort Wayne, where he pitched and played third base and had records of 6-1 and 5-0 with batting averages of .432 and .387.
During the winters Fields played in several Latin American Leagues, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Panama, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. In most leagues he pitched, or played thirdbase or outfield in games when he was not scheduled to pitch.
For four winters (1947-1951) in the Puerto Rican League he fashioned pitching records of 5-5, 10-4, 8-4, and 5-2, and posted batting averages of .328, .330, .335, and .340. His first year was with San Juan, but the other seasons were with Mayaguez, where he won the MVP award in the winter of 1948-1949.
He spent three baseball campaigns in Venezuela (1950-1952), the first season with Maracaibo and the latter two with Caracas, and hit .365, .398, and .350, but only pitched in the first season, recording a 6-2 ledger. With Caracas he won the MVP award in 1951-1952, and the next winter he led the league in home runs and RBIs.
In 1953, his only season in the Dominican Republic, he was 5-2 on the mound and played in the outfield when not pitching, batting .395 for the season. In 1958, his only season in Mexico, he played exclusively in the outfield, batting .392 for the Mexico City Reds. He also won the MVP award in Colombia in 1955-1956, and played briefly in Cuba and Panama.
He spent his entire Negro League career with the Grays, but continued his college education in the off-seasons while also playing football and basketball. After his active baseball career ended he worked for the government in Washington, D.C., as a counselor for alcoholics.
Fields pitched in many important games during his long baseball career, but one of the games that he best remembers was a loss. In an exhibition game in 1946, he matched up with Johnny Vander Meer in a tight pitching duel before losing, 1-0.
Baseball Career Highlights:
Discovered by the Grays as a 17 year old, Fields helped the Homestead Grays topple the Baltimore Elite Giants 3-0 in the 1948 Negro National League Championship. The Grays then defeated the Birmingham Black Barons 4-1 to win the Negro Leagues World Series.
In 1948, the New York Yankees' organization offered Fields a contract to play in Oakland, California. He rejected it and offers made by the Washington Senators in 1949 and the St. Louis Browns in 1952. Fields' reason for turning down these offers was simple, "Ever since I was a 10-year old, daydreaming boy, who walked down those dusty roads praying I'd someday play black baseball, that was my great hope in life. When the contracts were finally offered to me from major league teams, I'd already landed in the middle of my dream black professional baseball and by then I had a family. I had to ask myself if switching would benefit my family. I decided it would not."
Excerpt from My Life in the Negro Leagues: An Autobiography, by Wilmer Fields:
"Fields did play winter ball internationally in Latin America and Canada. His superior batting and pitching skills helped him capture the "Most Valuable Player" award on many occasions throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. In addition to playing basketball and football, Fields continued his college education in the off-seasons. After baseball, Fields work as an alcoholic counselor for the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C."
Awards, Honors, Titles, Championships,
• East-West All Star Game - 1948
• 1948 Negro National League Championship (Homestead Grays)
• 1948 Negro League World Series Champions (Homestead Grays)
• Puerto Rican League's "Most Valuable Player" Award- 1948-1949
• Caracas (Venezuela) "Most Valuable Player" Award - 1951-1952
• Brantford, Canada's "Most Valuable Player" Award - 1951, 1954,
• Columbia's "Most Valuable Player" Award - 1955-1956
NLBM Legacy 2000 Players' Reunion Alumni Book, Kansas City Missouri: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc., 2000.
James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.