Last week, Bronx Bomber fans were forced to say good-bye to the most recent “great” second baseman in Yankee franchise history, when Robbie Cano took his magical bat and gifted glove to Seattle for 240 million Mariner bucks. Today, we can say Happy Birthday to the first great second baseman in Yankee franchise history.
Jimmy Williams had made a smashing big league debut in his 1899 rookie season with Pittsburgh, when he led the National League with 27 triples,smashed 9 home runs and averaged a whopping .354. Its no wonder the legendary John McGraw literally kidnapped Williams on his way to the Pirates 1901 spring training camp and enticed him to sign with his newly formed Baltimore Orioles in the newly formed American League.
A third baseman with the Pirates, McGraw switched Williams to second and for the next seven seasons,he established himself as one of the best in the game at that position. Offensively, he continued to be a “triples machine,” leading the league in three-baggers in each of the two seasons the team remained in Baltimore.
When Ban Johnson’s dictatorial antics forced the shift of the Orioles’ franchise to New York before the 1903 season, Williams was one of just four Orioles’ players who made the move north with the club. He and outfielder Harry Howell were the only two starters in the New York Highanders’ first Opening Day lineup who were also in the first ever Baltimore Orioles Opening Day lineup, two seasons earlier. Williams, who was born in St. Louis but spent most of his childhood in Denver, is also credited with driving in the first run in New York Highlander/Yankee history.
Though he never again topped the .300 mark in batting average once the team relocated, he was one of the Highlanders’ best offensive weapons. He consistently finished near the top of the team’s leader board in most of the major hitting categories. He was also well respected by his teammates serving New York’s first-ever team-captains.
Following the 1907 regular season, New York manager Cal Griffith decided Williams was getting a bit long in the tooth and traded his then 30-year-old infielder to the Browns as part of a six player deal that brought 27-year-old St.Louis second baseman, Harry Niles to New York. Williams ended up outplaying Niles during each player’s first season with their new teams but Williams would falter badly for the Browns the following year, (1909) averaging just .195.
Instead of quitting, he went back to the minors and spent the final six years of his playing career manning second base for the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association. A favorite of Minneapolis fans, Williams ended up settling in that city after he finally retired in 1915. He died there in 1965, at the age of 89.
|NYY (7 yrs)||940||3934||3535||486||978||176||87||31||537||94||298||348||.277||.337||.402||.739|
|PIT (2 yrs)||259||1148||1037||199||330||43||38||14||184||44||92||78||.318||.379||.473||.853|
|SLB (2 yrs)||258||1034||913||95||200||23||13||4||75||13||84||105||.219||.288||.286||.574|