The power-hitting corner infielder turned catcher who won the National Rookie of the Year Award in 1971 has died. Earl Williams, who played for the Braves, Orioles, Expos and Athletics, died late Wednesday at his home in Somerset, N.J., not far from his Newark birthplace. Williams was 64 years old. The Newark Star-Ledger reported his death, noting that Williams had been diagnosed with acute leukemia last summer.
The newspaper said Williams was with his wife of 33 years, Linda, and a stepdaughter, Raquel West, and also that he was survived by granddaughter Ruquayyah Williams.
Williams played in 10 games with the Braves in 1970, playing first and third base, positions he continued to play. But the Braves, who had an abundance of corner infielders and needed a catcher and right-handed power hitter, wanted him to catch. Williams, at age 22 and without experience behind the plate, caught 72 games in 1971 and 116 the following season. His bat kept him in the lineup.
Williams hit 33 homers with 87 RBIs in 1971 and won the Rookie of the Year vote by a 3-to-1 margin over Phillies outfielder/first baseman Willie Montanez.
Having proven himself with another season of driving in 87 runs -- to go with 28 homers -- in 1972, Williams was traded to Baltimore in a six-player deal in which Davey Johnson and Pat Dobson were sent to Atlanta. Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who died earlier this month, said his team would win the pennant if it acquired Williams, and while Baltimore won the American League East title in each of Williams' two seasons with the club, it lost in the AL Championship Series each time.
Playing in Memorial Stadium, which wasn't a home run haven, especially compared to "The Launching Pad" in Atlanta, Williams hit .245 with 36 homers and 135 RBIs (driving in 83 in 1973) in his two years with the Orioles and was traded back to the Braves in April 1975. The Expos acquired him in July 1976 and he played for the A's in 1977. He finished his Major League career with 138 home runs, 457 RBIs and a .247 batting average in 889 games.