SABR Salute: Frank Williams
Editor’s note: The SABR Salute, first bestowed upon writer Fred Lieb in 1976, was designed as a manner of recognizing the contributions of some of the older members of the Society. Subsequent SABR Salutes appeared in the SABR Membership Directory and honored members who had made great contributions to baseball historical research. Frank Williams received the SABR Salute in 1999; the following biographical sketch appeared in that year’s membership directory.
Frank Williams was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, March 26, 1942. He graduated from the University of Bridgeport with a degree in accounting in 1965, and that has been his primary field of work (other than baseball research) for the last 30 years. In the 1960s, he served in the U.S. Army and later the National Guard. While growing up, his primary focus was on baseball players of the past such as Smoky Joe Wood, whom he knew on a personal basis, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Kid Nichols, Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson.
He joined SABR in 1978 and became a member of the New England regional group. He started compiling data on the Red Sox. His fascination then expanded to all Boston teams, not only to the National League, but the Players League, the Union Association, and the American Association clubs. Frank found a 30-game hitting streak for Cal McVey in 1876, even though McVey didn’t play for Boston that year. He felt more comfortable when he found that Tris Speaker had a 30-game hitting streak for the Red Sox in 1912, plus two 20-game streaks!
His most detailed work involved compiling and correcting all day-by-day pitching decisions for the American League from 1901 through 1919. In those years, the league kept its own figures and didn’t do a very good job of it. Frank corrected hundreds of errors in wins and losses alone. In addition, he compiled data on games, games started, shutouts, saves and relief wins and losses. This work was accepted by Jeff Neuman and Ken Samelson at Macmillan; David Neft at Sports Products; and Pete Palmer for Total Baseball. Frank’s first national recognition as a dedicated researcher came with the issuance of The National Pastime in 1982. His article had the provocative title of “All The Record Books Are Wrong.” It provided an appropriate stimulant for other SABR researchers.
Among his most memorable experiences was being a close friend of Smoky Joe Wood. Conversations with him at his West Haven home about pre-1920 baseball “were an education in themselves.” Frank’s minor league interests centered on the ageless James O’Rourke, the only Hall of Famer from Bridgeport. He compiled the complete minor league record of O’Rourke, who was the owner, manager, and catcher/first baseman for Bridgeport in the Connecticut League, 1895-1909, and wound up catching for New Haven at age 60 in 1912. In summary, Pete Palmer says: “SABR has done a lot of good work in baseball research. But there are only a handful of members who have contributed the quantity and quality of that done by Frank Williams.”
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