Note: This page is for 1910s pitcher Johnnie Williams; for the pitcher in the 1940s, click here.
John Brodie Williams
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 180 lb.
- High School Saint Louis High School, Punahou High School
- Debut April 21, 1914
- Final Game August 19, 1914
- Born July 16, 1889 in Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawaii
- Died September 8, 1963 in Long Beach, CA USA
John Brodie "Honolulu Johnnie" Williams was the first man of part Pacific Islander ancestry to play major league baseball.
Williams, whose British immigrant father, J.J. Williams, was a prominent Honolulu, HI photographer and the founder of what is now known as Honolulu magazine, established himself as a feared fastball pitcher in the first decade of the 20th century, twirling for Saint Louis High School and Punahou High School as well as the Honolulu Athletic Club, which competed in the so-called Honolulu Senior League.
In early 1910, he pitched so well in a series of games against a semi-pro team from the visiting cruiser USS New Orleans that word got back to the West Coast about this phenomenon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Enter Harold "Babe" Danzig, a former major leaguer who was no stranger to Hawaii. Danzig, married to the sister of legendary Outrigger Canoe Club coach George David "Dad" Center, was dispatched to Honolulu by Charlie Graham, then owner of the Sacramento Solons, to look over the hurler.
Williams was soon in Sacramento for a tryout with the Pacific Coast League club. It was determined that Johnny had raw talent, but required some seasoning. So he spent a season in the low minors with the Victoria Bees of the Northwest League.
Williams returned a year later and dominated. After his PCL-leading 17-7 season in 1913, he was purchased by the Detroit Tigers.
His big league debut came on April 20, 1914, on the same field with greats of the game like Ty Cobb, "Wahoo" Sam Crawford, Harry Heilmann and Donie Bush. The manager of the Bengals at that time was Hughie Jennings. Williams' big league record was 0-2 in 4 games pitched with an ERA of 6.35. His best effort was a tough 3-0 loss against Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators, which was a scoreless duel through seven innings.
Why did Williams pitch so little in the majors? One theory was that Cobb didn't accept the brown-skinned pitcher - whose Hawaiian blood was derived from his half-Hawaiian mother, Julia WiIlls Williams - as a teammate. A story by an unknown author in the Williams file at the Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, NY extrapolated from a remark in a 1959 retrospective by Honolulu sportswriter Red McQueen. However, this appears to be a canard. The main factor was that Williams contracted malaria during spring training in Mississippi in 1914. The major-league edge may already have been gone from his stuff by that point too.
Johnny (as his name was typically spelled in the pros) never pitched another game in the major leagues, bouncing around in the minors, including a stint with the San Francisco Mission Wolves, through 1916. He joined the Hawaiian Infantry during World War I. Upon completion of his tour of duty "Over There", Honolulu Johnnie headed a team of local all-stars to Japan where he started 18 of the 21 games they played. He later pitched in the Commercial League and the Hawaii Major League.
John Williams worked for the Honolulu office of Standard Oil in the 1920s, then took a job in the City and County of Honolulu’s refuse division, retiring in 1958. Johnnie and his second wife, Nina Aylett Williams, moved to Long Beach, CA, where he died five years later at the age of 74.
One of his sisters, Hazel, married a man named Bellinger, and their son, John, became Hawaii's favorite Horatio Alger story, starting out at the lowest levels of the Bishop Bank in Honolulu and working his way up the ladder to become the president of what is now called First Hawaiian Bank. A brother, James A. Williams, took over the photography business, leaving it to a son, Alex Williams. The company, "Williams Photography", documented more than five generations of Honolulu's history and exists to this day. Another sister, Mele Williams, married the plantation manager at Waipahu mill, Hans L'Orange, a name any schoolboy baseball player in Hawaii would recognize as the name of a baseball stadium on Oahu.