Note: This page is for 1910s pitcher Claude "Lefty" Williams; for the pitcher in the 1930s, click here.
Claude Preston Williams
- Bats Right, Throws Left
- Height 5' 9", Weight 160 lb.
- Debut September 17, 1913
- Final Game September 25, 1920
- Born March 9, 1893 in Aurora, MO USA
- Died November 4, 1959 in Laguna Beach, CA USA
Claude "Lefty" Williams was banned from baseball for his participation in fixing the 1919 World Series. A short man at 5'9", he relied on his curveball and the excellent defensive outfield of the Chicago White Sox for his success in the majors.
Williams grew up in Springfield, MO and developed his left-handed curveball at a young age. His first professional team was the Morristown Jobbers of the Appalachian League in 1912, for whom he went 18-11 with 224 strikeouts. He moved up to the Nashville Volunteers of the Southern Association in 1913, winning 18 games again. He made his major league debut with the Detroit Tigers at the end of the 1913 season and pitched another game for the Tigers in early 1914, neither with much success, but was then sent down to the Sacramento Sacts of the Pacific Coast League where his record was a poor 13-20 in spite of a 2.05 ERA. He pitched for the Salt Lake City Bees in 1915 and won 33 games, leading the PCL in both victories and strikeouts with 294. The White Sox purchased his contract after the season.
Lefty Williams went 13-7 in 224 innings for the White Sox in 1916 and would remain a rotation mainstay until 1920. While he had accumulated high strikeout totals in the minors, in the major leagues he relied on the large outfield in Comiskey Park and the excellent defensive outfields led by centerfielder Happy Felsch to bail him out of trouble. In 1917, he was 17-8, 2.97 in 230 innings as the third starter for the pennant-winning White Sox, behind Red Faber and Eddie Cicotte. In the World Series, manager Pants Rowland picked Reb Russell over him as his third starter, and Williams was reduced to one inning in relief as the White Sox defeated the New York Giants. He appeared in only 15 games in 1918, because he decided to work in the Navy shipyards in Chicago rather than face the World War I military draft, following the lead of teammates "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Byrd Lynn.
Williams came back for a full season in 1919 and contributed 23 wins to the White Sox pennant. However, this is where he made the fateful decision to join Jackson and other teammates in agreeing to throw the World Series in exchange for a payment of $ 10,000 from crooked gamblers. At the time, his monthly salary was $ 500, so the sum was quite alluring. In fact, he only collected $ 5000 of the promised sum, but certainly did his part in helping to lose the Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds. He lost Game 2 when he allowed three runs in the 4th inning, leading to a 4-2 loss; in Game 5, he allowed four runs in the sixth inning to give the Reds the game. Finally, in Game 8, he retired a single batter in the first batter, being pulled with the Sox trailing 4-0 (they would lose the game 10-5). He was the first pitcher to lose three games in the same series - an unenviable record tied by reliever George Frazier in 1981; he seemed to lose his usual pinpoint control at key moments of each start. Eliot Asinof, in his classic book on the Black Sox Scandal, Eight Men Out, alleges that before Game 8, Williams was visited in his hotel by a henchman named Harry F. who threatened to hurt his wife if the Sox won the decisive game. Asinof later confessed that he had made up that anecdote, but it fit in well with a man who appeared to be determined to do everything in his power to ensure the outcome was not in doubtpast the first inning in the final game.
In spite of the rumors that immediately began to swell that the result of the Series were tainted, Lefty Williams came back to pitch in 1920 and had another good year. With offense going up markedly in what was the first year of the live ball era, his ERA climbed to 3.91, but he still picked up 22 wins, one of four 20-game winners on the White Sox that season. However, it all came crashing down in late September, when Billy Maharg, one of the gamblers who had fixed the previous year's series, spilled the beans about his role to a Philadelphia newspaper. A couple of teammates immediately confessed to team owner Charles Comiskey and the conspirators were suspended. While a jury found them not guilty, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis considered they had provided enough evidence of their guilt to warrant a lifetime ban from baseball.
Out of organized baseball, Williams barnstormed and played in outlaw leagues for a few years, then moved to California where he went in the landscaping business. He never made any revelations about his own role in the scandal that shook baseball to its foundations and died in Laguna Beach, CA, in 1959.
- 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (1917, 1919 & 1920)
- 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1919 & 1920)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (1916, 1917, 1919 & 1920)
- Won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 1917
- Jon Dunkle: "Claude Preston 'Lefty' Williams", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 523-534.
- Jacob Pomremke: "Lefty Williams", in Jacob Pomrenke, ed.: Scandal on the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 232-242. ISBN 978-1-933599-95-3