Wilmer Fields, Two Decades of Baseball Brilliance (Minors and Caribbean), Part II

Wilmer Fields played semi-pro summer baseball in Canada with the 1951 and 1954 Brantford Red Sox, and 1955 Oshawa Merchants, Intercounty Baseball League. But he also signed a 1952 contract with Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, to play for this team. (Kent Cooke was a Canadian businessman who later became a U.S. citizen and owner of the three-time Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins NFL team and NBA Los Angeles Lakers.) Fields’ SABR bio by Frederick C. Bush, is at https://sabr.org/node/40254.  He was the fourth of five children born to Albert and Mabel Fields. There were three older brothers and a younger sister.

Wilmer Fields with Cerveceria Caracas

In 1951, Fields had an 11-2 W-L record for Brantford, and a .382 batting AVG, in earning Intercounty League MVP honors. Part I documented Fields’ 1951-52 winter season for Cerveceria Caracas, a .348 AVG and .575 SLG, eight HR and 45 RBIs, followed by his All-Star performance as a RF, February 1952 Caribbean Series–.360 AVG and .720 SLG. (Fields said he also played in Maracaibo, Venezuela.) Luis Aparicio “El Grande” was his teammate; and his son, Luis Aparicio Jr. would “buy us snowballs to eat.” Fields was a 1951-52 Cervecería Caracas teammate of Chico Carrasquel, the first Venezuelan and Latino player selected to start in a MLB All-Star Game—for the AL, at shortstop, 1951.) Fields’ Venezuela nickname was The Elephant.

Wilmer Fields with Toronto

Fields had second thoughts of playing for Toronto in 1952, and hired a Canadian lawyer and one in Columbus, Ohio. Kent Cooke prevailed after sending a limousine to Buffalo, New York, to pick Fields up, and bring him to Toronto, the club with the best 1952 home attendance, 446,040, in the International League (77 home games). The 95-56 Montreal Royals, a Dodgers farm team, won the regular season pennant, but lost to Rochester, in the league finals. Junior Gilliam, their second baseman and League MVP, was the best player Fields played against that summer. Fields broke his wrist, but was batting .300 until Johnny Podres of Montreal held him hitless the last day of the season. Fields’ AVG dropped to .291. He made $14,000 with Toronto, three times more than he would have made with the 1952 St. Louis Browns, also interested in him.  Fields declined big-league offers from the 1948 New York Yankees—to play for Oakland under Casey Stengel in the Pacific Coast League; the 1949 Washington Senators; and, 1952 St. Louis Browns. (The Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Detroit Tigers also approached Fields.)

Detour to San Pedro de Macoris

The Dominican Republic had a summer league, 1951-to-1954, but no Winter League. Fields was one of two black imports with the 1953 Estrellas Orientales, in San Pedro de Macoris. There were Cuban players in the league; ex-Negro Leaguers like Alonzo Perry; Luis R. Olmo from Puerto Rico. Fields’ favorite teammate was Juan Esteban “Tetelo” Vargas, with a .355 AVG in 49 games. Fields received his highest salary ever–$3,000 a month. It included an allowance for living expenses. They played three games/week. In just over half a season, Fields was 42-for-107, a .393 AVG, 15 runs, 35 RBIs, two SB, .636 SLG, and 5-2 as a pitcher. But his children were becoming “sick,” so he asked the owners to “let me go home.” Fields owed the club $1,300 from two months advance pay. Things were settled, and his family returned to Manassas, Virginia. Fields met Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the country’s President, before returning home.

Canada (1953-55) and Colombian Winter League (1954-56)

Fields joined the 1953 Brandon Greys, ManDak League, and had a .356 AVG at the plate. He may have joined them in mid-July 1953, post-Dominican Republic. Howard Easterling and LHP Barney Brown were with the Greys most of the season. On July 24, 1953, reports stated “Wilmer Fields made a good first impression in Winnipeg. Playing his first game at Osborne Stadium, the former International League standout drove in six runs with a grand slam homer and single as Brandon trounced the Royals 13-5.” Fields then had two doubles and a single in a 11-1 win over Moose Jaw, July 30. Willie Wells, the Cooperstown Hall of Famer, was Brandon’s player-manager. Brandon finished the regular season 43-31 (first-place tie), before winning the semi-final series, and losing the league finals, four games-to-two, to the Minot Mallards. Many ex-Negro Leaguers were in this league, including Othello Renfroe, with Minot. Chet Brewer managed that (1953) season. Bob Thurman played in Canada part of that 1953 season, too.

His 1954 Brantford Red Sox, Intercounty Baseball League, were the best regular season club, with Harry Fisher, ex-Pittsburgh Pirates hurler, via the 1953 Hollywood Stars of the PCL; Frank Colman, ex-New York Yankee and Pittsburgh player; plus, LHP Barney Brown, ex-Negro Leagues star, and two-time MVP of Puerto Rico’s Winter League (1941-42, 1946-47). They also had pitcher Max Manning, and switch-hitting IF Stan Breard, formerly with Caguas in Puerto Rico. Fields had a .460 AVG and 34 RBIs in his first 22 games! By August 13, 1954, Brantford claimed first-place with a double-header sweep of Guelph-Waterloo, 3-0 and 5-0, behind newcomer Manning (first game) and Barney Brown (game two). Fields (.379 AVG) edged teammate Harry Fisher (.373 AVG) for the 1954 batting title, with teammate Frank Colman, third, at .360. Fisher won a league-best 13 games, while Fields was 9-3 on the mound. Fields’ 24 doubles led the loop. St. Thomas, however, won the 1954 Intercounty playoffs.

And Fields stayed busy, traveling to Colombia, South America, to reinforce the 1954-55 Vanytor Reds, aka Elegantes de Vanytor, in a four-team league. Most of Vanytor’s imports were minor leaguers with the Cincinnati Reds organization. Their player-manager was Leon “Red” Treadway, with 394 total AB with the 1944 and 1945 New York Giants, when many major leaguers served in World War II. Fields’ nickname was also “Red,” and he was also called Chinky,” from days with the Homestead Grays. Fields’ 61 hits in 187 AB gave him a .326 AVG, second to Jasper Spears’ .366 AVG for league champion Willard Blues, managed by Spud Chandler, ex-New York Yankee pitcher, 1937-1947 (with a 109-43, .717 PCT). Chandler was then in the Cleveland Indians organization, and brought their prospects to Willard. The league’s other clubs were Torrices and Indios. League games were played in Barranquilla and Cartagena.

Fields’ final season in Canada was with the 1955 Oshawa Merchants, under player-manager Roy Lefevre. Fields was 8-0 as a starter and reliever, and won another batting title, with a .425 AVG. St. Thomas won the post-season finals over Oshawa, after the Merchants won the regular season. Fields had hit a walk-off HR against Johnny Ambrose of St. Thomas to win a June 27, 1955, regular season game, 3-2. Oshawa’s pitching staff featured LHP Eddie Drapcho, an Ivy Leaguer, who once pitched for Princeton University. The other four league teams were London, Kitchener, Brantford, and Galt. On July 2, 1955, Fields drove in three runs with a HR and triple versus Galt. His eighth inning HR traveled over 500 feet, and was described as “one of the longest blows ever seen at Dickson Park.” Ten days later, the usually calm Fields was ejected from a game against the London Majors for arguing a called third strike. Galt had ex-Negro Leaguers Jeep Jessup and Chick Longest. Black players were treated very nicely by fans and local businesses throughout Southern Ontario. The league featured high-scoring games—on July 21, 1955, Fields drove in three runs in a 20-7 win over Brantford—and a no-hitter, the same day, when Kitchener’s Billy Allan blanked London, 3-0. On July 24, Fields hit a towering HR versus Kitchener. By July 29, Fields had a .416 AVG, ahead of teammates’ Roy Lefevre (.396) and Rollie Leveille (.394).

Fields’ pitching gems included an August 3, 1955 three-hit SHO of Galt, with six strikeouts and two walks, followed by a 5-1 win over St. Thomas, August 8. He had three hits at the plate in the latter win. Fields belted a grand slam and a three-run homer in a 12-7 win over Galt, August 21. On August 22, Fields lost against the St. Thomas Elgins, giving up three unearned runs in the first. The “much-travelled” Fields hit a 380-foot double and had a “couple of fielding gems” the next day, in a 4-0 exhibition game win over Industrial Lumber of the West Toronto Baseball League. Fields cemented his hold as batting champion with a HR, double, and single in four trips against St. Thomas, August 26, 1955. Ottawa (33-17) finished first; then, Kitchener and St. Thomas tied for second at 26-24; London and Brantford were fourth at 24-26, but Brantford won the tie-breaker contest, 2-1, to face Ottawa in the semi-finals. Galt (17-33) was last.

Fields had 77 hits in 181 AB to win the batting crown at .425. He led the league with 12 HR and 55 RBIs, for a Triple Crown! Harry Fisher of Brantford had a .375 AVG, 50 points behind Fields, to finish second. Fisher’s second-best 46 RBIs were nine fewer than Fields. No wonder why Fields was so popular in Canada! In the post-season, Oshawa won their semi-finals, three games-to-one, but lost the finals to St. Thomas, four games-to-one. Their only win was in Game Three, when Fields pitched them to a 5-4 victory, allowing seven hits, and hitting a key double. Fields had a 4-2 regular season pitching record in 1955, to finish 24-7 overall in his four semi-pro seasons in Canada. His four-year semi-pro career batting AVG in Canada was about .390.

Vanytor offered Fields the managing job in 1955-56, but he politely declined. He played against Brooks Robinson, the 18-year old 3B with the Willard Blues. Willard’s shortstop was Miguel Ramírez, father of Orlando Ramirez, the future MLB IF from Cartagena, signed by Carlos Manuel Santiago, a California Angels scout, March 15, 1972, per Rory Costello’s SABR bio of Orlando Ramírez. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/75ba584d (Carlos Manuel Santiago was Fields’ teammate with Mayagüez; Santiago also coached Colombia’s Amateur Baseball Team in 1970.)

Colombia’s season began October 7, 1955, and ended February 6, 1956, with Kola Román of Cartagena, the Cartagena Indios, Vanytor de Barranquilla, and Willard de Barranquilla. The Cartagena stadiums had seating capacity of 12,000, whereas Barranquilla’s stadiums had 8,000 seats apiece.  Final standings were Vanytor (38-25), Cartagena (33-32), Willard (31-33), and Kola Román (26-38). Jesse Levant (Cartagena) was the batting champ with a .321 AVG; Marv Breeding (Willard) had the most hits, 86; Tito Francona (Willard) and Horace Garner (Cartagena) were co-leaders in HR (17); Francona had the most RBIs, 48. Daniel Morejón had 26 SB for Vanytor. Jim “Mudcat” Grant (Willard) led the loop with 131 strikeouts. Two Vanytor hurlers—Woodrow Rich (11-2) and Thomas Schmidt (1.40 ERA)—were tops in wins and ERA.

U.S. Semi-Pro (1956 and 1957) Baseball and Mexican (AA) League (1958)

Wilmer Fields in Mexico

Before retiring in 1958, Fields played 1956 and 1957 semi-pro seasons with Fort Wayne, Indiana; and a portion of 1958 in Mexico, with the Mexico City Red Devils, a team with 1B Alonzo Perry. Fort Wayne won five National Baseball Congress (NBC) titles under three different sponsors—General Electric, Capehart, and Allen Dairy. Fort Wayne had a trio of ex-Negro Leaguers win the MVP# award at the NBC Semi-Pro Tournament: Bill Ricks (1949), Pat Scantlebury (1950), and Fields (1957). In 1956 they represented the U.S. in the second Global World Series, at County Stadium, Milwaukee. They beat the Honolulu Red Sox in the final 2-0. https://sabr.org/research/global-world-series-1955-57 Per this SABR article, shortstop John Kennedy singled in the first inning, went to second on an errant pick-off throw, and scored on a base hit by Wilmer Fields. That turned out to be the winning run. The Dairymen tacked on an insurance run in the seventh and held on for an exciting 2–0 victory. The sparse crowd of 2,637 was disappointed— they rooted for the Hawaiians—but the U.S. repeated as champions. # (Past NBC Tournament MVP winners also included Satchel Paige (1935) and Cot Deal (1944-45.)

Fields was 4-1 with 1956 Fort Wayne, and posted a .430 AVG. His team defeated Alpine, Texas, a club with Johnny Podres, in the U.S. Navy in 1956, and got permission to pitch Semi-Pro ball.  In 1957, Fields reinforced Sinton (Texas) Oilers in the third Global World Series, at Briggs Stadium, Detroit. Fields and Clint Hartung were named to the 1957 Global World Series All-Tournament Team. Fields hit a two-run HR versus Colombia in this 1957 event.  Puerto Rico, managed by Luis R. Olmo, played in the 1955 and 1956 Global World Series. Venezuela replaced Puerto Rico in 1957. With Mexico City (1958), Fields played in 25 games; connected 33 hits in 88 AB, for a .375 AVG; seven HR, and 35 RBIs, including the longest HR hit at Red Devils Stadium. He told author and historian John Holway, “I wish you had seen that one.”

Per Fields’ SABR bio, he settled his family in Manassas; they moved into a ranch house, two doors down from the house in which he grew up and where he learned to play baseball. He became a counselor for alcoholics for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. Fields also worked at Lorton Reformatory, a D.C. prison in nearby Virginia, where he organized baseball games between inmates and students from the Prince William County School District.  He coached his son Billy’s youth baseball teams in the 1970s. Billy accepted a basketball scholarship to Providence College.

On September 10, 1988, he was one of 11 Negro League players honored by the Pittsburgh Pirates who commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Grays’ last championship prior to that evening’s game. Five years later, on August 29, 1993, Fields was in attendance when the Pirates raised banners to honor both the Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays; the flags would continue to fly alongside the Pirates’ own championship banners at Three Rivers Stadium. Fields attended a Negro League players’ reunion in August 1991 that was hosted by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He joked that “It’s always interesting when you go to a reunion and you can talk with all the guys, and nobody can tell a lie.”

In 1993, Van Hyning put Fields in touch with Ismael Trabal in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Trabal coordinated a special function at Mayagüez’s Isidoro García Stadium to honor Fields. By 1994, he was elected president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association, receiving two-thirds of the votes. Per his SABR bio, “I couldn’t turn my back on those people. … I’m working every day – almost – on projects, trying to get something started.” Fields promoted the legacy of the Negro Leagues wherever he could, primarily through lectures at schools and community events. He worked tirelessly to try to gain medical and pension benefits for former Negro League players, a venture at which he had some measure of success. A short time prior to Fields’ death, Commissioner Bud Selig announced MLB would pay more than $1 million in pension money to 27 former Negro Leaguers.

Per Part I, in three Caribbean Series, Fields, in 15 games, had 21 hits in 57 AB, a .368 AVG; five doubles, four HR, 16 RBIs, 13 runs, and a .667 SLG! The .667 SLG is the BEST in Phase I, 1949-1960, Caribbean Series, eclipsing Willard Brown’s .627 SLG. It tops Armando Ríos’s .649 SLG, in five Phase II Caribbean Series events, 1970-to-2020. Bob Thurman (24 hits/63 AB, .381 AVG) and Sandy Amorós (24 hits/64 AB, .375 AVG) had a higher AVG than Fields, Phase I, Caribbean Series. Tony “Tany” Pérez’s .400 AVG and Ríos’s .381 AVG are one-two, Phase II, Caribbean Series, 1970-to-2020. Fields was inducted in the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame, Class of 2001. https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Caribbean_Baseball_Hall_of_Fame. Wilmer Fields died on June 4, 2004, in Manassas, at 81. Perhaps Tommy “Pee Wee” Butts of the Baltimore Elite Giants paid him the ultimate compliment: “Chinky never quits.” Fields learned that “control is the main ingredient for any successful pitcher” via Vic Harris, his first manager with the Homestead Grays. Fields would lose 12 pounds in a day game, pitching for the 1947-48 San Juan Senators, in those old wool uniforms. But he never quit in Canada, the States, or the Caribbean.

Table I. Top 10 Caribbean Series SLG AVG,

50+ Plate Appearances, Phase I and Phase II

Player Country SLG
Wilmer Fields Puerto Rico/Venezuela .667
Armando Ríos Puerto Rico/Mexico .649
Willard Brown Puerto Rico .627
Roberto Clemente Puerto Rico .592
Carmelo Martínez Puerto Rico .589
Bob Thurman Puerto Rico .587
Héctor Rodríguez Cuba .583
David Ortíz Dominican Republic .579
Tony “Tany” Pérez Puerto Rico .576
Candy Maldonado Puerto Rico .573

With deep appreciation to Wilmer and Audrey Fields, and John Holway, for their friendship and goodwill. Thanks to “Spook” Jacobs for insights on Fields, 1952 Caribbean Series. Miguel Dupouy Gómez facilitated timely/accurate statistics from the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. Jorge Colón Delgado did so for the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League.

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