Leaguer of the Month
Born: June 30, 1918 in Memphis, TN
Died: November 8, 2006 in Erie, PA
Ht:6'-0", Wt: 170
Batted both, Threw right
Playing Years: 1940-1950
Teams: Cleveland Buckeyes, Cincinnati Buckeyes, Louisville Buckeyes, Houston Eagles, Erie Sailors (minors)
Willie Grace was no Willie Mays, but he was a hard-hitting outfielder on some great Negro League teams, including two pennant-winning Cleveland Buckeyes teams in '45 and '47.
Grace was born in Memphis, Tennessee and played semipro ball in Laurel, Mississippi where he was discovered by the Cincinnati Buckeyes in 1942. The Buckeyes moved to Cleveland in '43, and in '45, led by catcher-manager Quincy Trouppe, the Buckeyes won the Negro League World Series over the Homestead Grays, with Grace hitting over .300 with a homer.
In '47, the Buckeyes lost the World Series to the New York Cubans who featured Pat Scantlebury and Minnie Minoso, soon to rise to the Major Leagues.
Grace played in three East-West Game, twice in '46 and once in '48, going 5 for 11 (.455). In the '46 game at Griffith Stadium (there were two games that year, one in D.C, and the regular one at Comiskey Park, Chicago), Grace led a strike among the West's players until the owners agreed to a $50 raise per player, to $100.
With the Buckeyes, Grace played briefly with Eddie Klepp, the first white Negro Leaguer. Klepp couldn't quite keep up with the level of play in the Negro Leagues, was released, and ended up going to prison for robbery.
Grace was a fine switch-hitter, with occasional power, and had a strong arm from the outfield.
After playing the 1950 season with the Houston Eagles (relocated from Newark), 34-year-old Grace got a shot in Organized Baseball with the Erie Sailors of the Class C Mid-Atlantic League. In 120 games, Grace batted .293 with 14 doubles, five triples and two homers. Grace's roommate on Erie was another Negro League star, Maurice Peatros, who batted .299 with 27 doubles, and Erie won the pennant with an 85-40 record.
Grace retired from baseball after the '51 season, settled in Erie, and worked for Hammermill Paper for many years, and died at age 87.