Earl Williams Dies: Former NL Rookie Of The Year Passes Away At 64

Former MLB catcher Earl Williams, who won the National League Rookie of the Year in 1971, died Monday night at his home in Somerset, New Jersey. He was 64.

Williams, who played for the Braves, Orioles, Expos and Athletics during his major-league career, passed away after battling with leukemia. The Newark Star-Ledger reports he was diagnosed with cancer last July.

According to MLB.com, Williams made his debut as a September call-up for the Atlanta Braves as a 21-year-old in 1970. After being shuffled around the infield for the first 10 games of his rookie season, Williams was asked to catch, a position he had no experience with.

“He had to learn from scratch,” Williams’ 83-year-old mother, Dolores Reilly, told the Star-Ledger in a phone interview. “He used to tell me that if he could’ve he would’ve used two gloves to catch Phil Niekro’s knuckleball.”

In his first season as a pro, Williams smacked 33 homers with 87 RBIs in 1971 and won the Rookie of the Year vote by a 3-to-1 margin over Phillies outfielder/first baseman Willie Montanez.

Williams left the Braves for the Orioles in 1972 in a trade that sent six players to Atlanta. The Star-Ledger quoted former Orioles manager Earl Weaver as saying at the time, “Give me Earl Williams, I’ll win the pennant.”

After a return to the Braves in 1975, Williams’ contract was sold to the Montreal Expos during the 1976 season and he joined the Oakland Athletics in 1977, his final year as a MLB player.

After his baseball career, Earl Williams worked as a supervisor at Warner Jenkinson in South Plainfield for 27 years before retiring.

He is survived by his wife, Linda, a stepdaughter and a granddaughter.