William T. Randall, an outfielder who played in the 1940s for Washington’s Homestead Grays, one of the premier teams in the Negro baseball leagues of that era, died Feb. 13 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Columbia. He was 97.
He had complications from a stroke, said his daughter Laura Crandon.
Mr. Randall, known as “Sonny,” began playing for semiprofessional and independent Negro teams in the Washington area in the early 1930s, more than a decade before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
Mr. Randall had a long career with the Washington Aztecs, among other teams, and distinguished himself as an “excellent ballplayer,” said Layton Revel, the founder of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research in Carrollton, Tex.
Mr. Randall joined the professional Homestead Grays in 1942, according to the research center, and played intermittently while holding down a government job. Among his teammates were several future Hall of Famers, including catcher Josh Gibson, first baseman Buck Leonard and outfielder James “Cool Papa” Bell.
During his Navy service in World War II, Mr. Randall played for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center Blue Jackets, where his teammates included Larry Doby, also a future Hall of Famer who would later integrate the American League.
Mr. Randall played again for the Homestead Grays in 1946 before returning to lower-ranking leagues for about another decade, according to the research center.
In a conversation for the book “I Will Never Forget: Interviews With 39 Former Negro League Players,” Mr. Randall said that he was scouted by the Cleveland Buckeyes but did not pursue the opportunity because he had a job in Washington and because he “knew of the hard times that the black ballplayers had trying to make it riding up and down the road in those buses.”
Among other indignities, he recalled, black athletes sometimes had to change into their uniforms in the bus or in the woods because hotels declined to accommodate African Americans.
Mr. Randall’s career has been documented by baseball historians, including Larry Lester and Wayne Stivers. But statistics from the Negro Leagues are scarce, and Mr. Randall once told The Washington Post that he did not keep track of his own.
“Who was I going to show them to?” he said. “I was born too soon.”
William Talton Randall was born Aug. 5, 1915, in Phoebus, Va., and moved to Washington as a boy. He left school after eighth grade to help support his family during the Depression.
Mr. Randall spent most of his career with the Navy Department and NASA, working as an office mover and mail clerk until his retirement in 1973 . He later was a cabdriver in Washington and a chauffeur for Sens. Milton Young (R-N.D.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and for several local law firms.
Mr. Randall was a member of the Negro League Legends Hall of Fame. In 2008, he and his baseball colleagues were honored in the exhibit “Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia,” curated by the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum.
Mr. Randall was a longtime resident of Temple Hills. Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Ann Turner Randall of Clarksville; two daughters, Laura Crandon of Clarksville and Susan Shorters of Bowie; and five grandchildren.
In his older age, Mr. Randall spoke at schools and other venues about the history of the Negro leagues.
“I just played for the love of the game,” he told The Post. “I’d always felt I could’ve played in the majors if I had the chance.”