He never earned the big bucks or played in the major leagues, but Willie James Wells, baseball's first power-hitting shortstop, finally broke into the big-time in Texas.
The remains of the former Negro Leagues baseball star, an Austin native who retired in 1948 with a .363 lifetime batting average, were buried last week in the Texas State Cemetery. Wells is the second black American to be interred there.
For almost 150 years, only elected Texas officials, certain appointed state officials, and Confederate soldiers and their widows could be buried there. The cemetery holds 2,000 Confederate soldiers and spouses, and such luminaries as Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas; Gov. John Connally; and Barbara Jordan, the first black woman to serve in Congress from the South. In 1997, the Texas Legislature created a cemetery committee, empowering it to approve burials of other Texans who had contributed significantly to the state's history.
Wells died in 1989 at the age of 83 in near anonymity and was buried at a cemetery in Austin's east side. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, honored for his career as a brilliant fielder with home run power. Wells set a single-season Negro Leagues record with 27 home runs in 88 games for the St. Louis Stars in 1926.
"This is a quite an honor, really, not only for the Negro Leagues and the Wells family, but quite an honor for Austin, Texas," said John "Buck" O'Neil, chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.
-- Sylvia Moreno