Have Bat, Will Travel, Will Hustle

One of the regular parts of the classifieds section of any newspaper are the “Work Wanted” ads. These are usually for jobs such as garbage/rubbish removal, lawn mowing and other similar services. It is very unusual to see a professional sportsperson advertising in the “Work Wanted” section, but this is exactly what American baseball player Earl Williams did in 1978.

Born in Newark, NJ in 1948, Earl Williams was selected as a first-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Braves in the 1965 draft. He then played in the minor leagues from 1966 to 1970, and appeared in 10 games for the Braves in the Major League at the end of the 1970 season. Williams’ breakthrough year came in 1971, when he was surprisingly chosen to be the Braves first-string catcher, despite never having played that position in the minor leagues. His quickness in adapting to the position, along with his powerful batting, led to him being named the National League rookie of the year in 1971.

The situation started to change in 1972, when Williams announced at the end of the season that he no longer wanted to play as a catcher, as the concentration required took away part of his production with the bat. Several Braves players stated that Williams’ performance behind the plate had dropped. As a result, the Braves traded Williams to the Baltimore Orioles in November 1972.

The 1973 season was filled with controversy and Earl Williams would end the year with a bad reputation that he never shed. Teammates expressed their displeasure at Williams’ lackadaisical play. There were confrontations with umpires and a failure to catch the team bus to a game, which lead to several suspensions. Similar incidents occurred in 1974, and by early 1975, the Orioles had had enough, and traded him back to the Braves, where he played 90 games at first base, and only 11 games behind the plate. In 1976, Williams played 61 games for the Braves before being traded to the Montreal Expos on July 24. He saw the season out with them, before being released in March 1977. Williams then played for the Oakland Athletics, but the season was a disaster, with the A’s finishing last by a long way in the American League West. Williams didn’t help his cause by claiming “The coaching here is non-existent.” He returned to the A’s for spring training in 1978, but a broken thumb led to his release on May 17. No other team showed any interest in him, and in desperation Williams placed his advertisement in the “New York Times” The ad stated that Earl was looking for employment, gave his lifetime stats, and said his salary was reasonable. He had made $40,000 for the A’s. It went on to add that he was in excellent health and had no police record. Before closing with his mother Dolores’ phone number as contact information (as Earl had no phone in his Alameda, California apartment), the ad said “HAVE BAT-WILL TRAVEL-WILL HUSTLE.” No calls followed, and and Earl was out of major league baseball at 29. Williams played in Mexico in 1979 and 1980, which ended his professional career. Williams was his own worst enemy. While his batting statistics for his first three years were first rate, his pugnacious nature and willingness to speak out were constant troubles during his career.

After battling leukemia, Earl Williams died at his home in Somerset, New Jersey, on January 28, 2013

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