Wild Bill Wright

From BR Bullpen

Burnis Wright (Wild Bill)

  • Bats Both, Throws Right
  • Height 6' 4", Weight 225 lb.

BR minors page

Biographical Information[edit]

Wild Bill Wright got his nickname for his control problems as a young pitcher, but spent his professional career as an outfielder. He debuted in the Negro Leagues in 1932 with the Nashville Elite Giants, hitting .300. In '33, he hit .328 as the Elite Giants RF, but the 19-year old was nowhere near the leaders in an offensive friendly season in the Negro National League. That winter he played in the integrated California Winter League and hit .351, third behind Cool Papa Bell and Willie Wells.

In '34, Wright slipped to .252 and the next year remained under .300 (.298) as the Elite Giants played in three different home cities. He made his debut in the East-West Game as a pinch-hitter. In 1936, with the Elite Giants now in Washington, Wright hit .356, just missing the league's top 5, and topped the circuit with 7 triples. At 22, he was starting to become a star. That year he was part of an all-star team that played in the Denver Post Tournament. Wright again made the East-West Game, this time as a backup to CF Bell. He was also 4 for 17 against a white major league squad in a 5-game series that off-season.

In '37, Wright had become an East-West starter in center, batting third for the East and going 3 for 5 and making the top defensive play of the game. He hit .370 for Washington, 5th in the NNL, was tied for 3rd with 10 homers (behind Josh Gibson and Mule Suttles and even with Buck Leonard), tied for second with 8 doubles and tied with Gibson for the most triples (5). 1938 was an off-year for Wright, who hit .273 for the Elite Giants, now stationed in Baltimore. He again made the East-West game and went 0 for 4 while batting 7th and playing right field.

1939 was Wild Bill Wright's best year yet - a .398 average (second to Ed Stone) (a published mark of .485!) and tied for the league lead with 4 triples. He went 3 for 8 against white major-leaguers that off-season, including a triple off of Bob Feller. He had been the East's CF and leadoff man in the East-West game, going 2 for 4 with a two-bagger (Holway lists two East-West games that year, while Rogosin only has the box score for the first one).

In 1940 Wright was one of the many Negro League stars who jumped to the Mexican League. He hit .360, fifth in the league, fourth with a .443 OBP and was third in slugging (.571). He was second to Bell in hits, third with 94 runs in 87 games, tied for the lead with 30 doubles and second to Sammy Bankhead with 29 swipes.

'41 was even better. The 27-year old outfielder hit .390, leading the league (beating out Gibson, Ray Dandridge, Wells, Bell, Dihgio, Bus Clarkson, Silvio Garcia, Stone and more). His 17 homers were third behind Gibson and Clarkson. His 26 steals led the Mexican League. He drew 72 walks that year as well.

In 1942 Wright returned to the Negro Leagues as did many of the other black stars. He hit .273 for the Baltimore Elite Giants and tied for fourth with 8 doubles; it was clearl yan off-year and might have cost the Giants the NNL pennant. Wright still hit 5th and played RF for the East in the East-West game, going 2 for 5.

Wright returned to the Mexico City Red Devils in 1943 and won a Triple Crown, hitting .366/.415/.577 with 13 homers and 70 RBI (two other players - Alejandro Crespo and Dandridge - also drove in 70 runners). In '44, Wright batted .335/.411/.539 for Mexico City.

A year later, he was back in the US for the final time in the Negro Leagues. he hit .397 for the Elite Giants but they again finished second. Wright was third in the league in average (Stone led with .430), second to Gibson with 5 homers and tied for the lead (with Henry Kimbro) with 9 doubles. In his final East-West game, he was 0 for 1 and lost a ball in the sun, costing his team the game.

In 1946 Wright returned to Mexico - just as Sal Maglie, Max Lanier and other major leaguers went south. Wright out-hit any of the white big-leaguers. He batted .300/.374/.434 but was a fading star as players like Bobby Avila and Bobby Estalella were taking over. In '47, Wright hit .305 with fading power (3 HR) and speed (13 SB); while many players walked more with age, Wright drew just 21 walks. In 1948 Wright only drew 18 walks in 66 games and failed to homer, but still hit a respectable .333 at age 34.

Wright continued to fade with age - .276 in '49, .302 in '50. In 1951 he hit .365/.426/.558 in just 30 games, going out in style. In 10 years in Mexico he hit .335 and slugged .501. Like some other players, Wright vastly preferred life in Mexico due to the absence of American racism. He stayed in Mexico after retiring, opening a restaurant in Aguascalientes ("Bill Wright's Dugout"). He was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1982.

Sources[edit]