SI Vault
Lee Gutkind
June 30, 1975
Art Williams, who was the first black player in the Detroit Tigers' system, has become the first, and only, black umpire in the National League. "In everything I do," he says, "I overhustle."
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June 30, 1975

'i Want To Carry My Load'

Art Williams, who was the first black player in the Detroit Tigers' system, has become the first, and only, black umpire in the National League. "In everything I do," he says, "I overhustle."

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Art Williams wasn't exactly nervous before those games in which he worked behind the plate, but still there was something, a gnawing, doubting sensation. Being a black man in a white man's world was hard; being an umpire, a lawman in a game where his every judgment could influence a man's career—that was even more difficult. Art Williams, the first black umpire in the National League, was doing his best. Yet there were times, especially every fourth game when it was his turn to call the plate, that an uneasiness set in. This was an umpire's most difficult and tiring job. This was the time when all eyes were unavoidably on him.

Early one evening in the umpires' room at Jarry Park in Montreal, Williams stripped down to his shorts, carried the boxes of new baseballs and a can of Delaware River mud into the bathroom and sat down near the sink. Nick Colosi, Doug Harvey and Harry Wendelstedt, the other members of his umpiring team, were in the dressing room talking quietly.

The previous night had been an excruciatingly bad one for Williams, his worst of the year. He had been working first base and doing what he considered to be a competent job when the fleet Montreal shortstop, Tim Foli, hit a slow ground ball to third. It looked as if it would be a close play, but Williams was on it, stepping into the slot to the right and at a 45-degree angle from first base, dropping down on one knee to see the ball slap the first baseman's glove and the runner's foot touch the base. The ball beat the runner by nearly half a step, and Williams jumped, whirled, raised his right fist and yelled, "Out!"

Then, for a split second, he was confused. The fans were cheering, and his fancy movement on the out call left him somewhat off-balance. He might have lost sight of the play, he wasn't sure, but the next thing he knew, the ball was rolling on the ground. His fist, signaling out, still hung like a hammer in the air as he reran the play in his mind. Had Foli knocked the ball out of the first baseman's glove? Interference? He thought so. "Out!" he bellowed again.

"He dropped the ball! The first baseman dropped the ball!" Foli yelled.

"No, he's crazy!" the first baseman yelled, motioning at Foli. "He grabbed the ball. He grabbed it!"

"You're wrong!" First Base Coach Walt Hriniak bellowed the words into Williams' face. "You're wrong, wrong, wrong!"

The three men crowded around the umpire, shouting, jumping up and down like angry dogs. Williams shut his eyes for an instant, remembering Doug Harvey's words: "I'm telling you, son, you can't let them double-team you, triple-team you, quadruple-team you. You tell them like I always tell them, 'One man, I'll talk to one man only. I'll talk to one man or no man at all.' "

But Williams knew he had hesitated too long, losing the advantage of his authority. He stood there, paralyzed. Then he composed himself and opened his mouth, with the intention of clearing the field, when Hriniak suddenly stepped forward and bumped him. Instinctively, Williams pushed the man back, hard. "You're gone," he yelled, pointing to the dugout. "Get out of here!"

"You pushed me, you...." Hriniak rushed forward and bumped him again. Williams held his ground and his temper. "You're gone! You're gone! Get out! Get out!" His arm shot out once more toward the dugout.

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