News your connection to The Boston Globe

Charles Williams, at 61; major league umpire

CHICAGO -- Charles Williams' calm demeanor as an umpire allowed him to shake off the abuse that often rained down from angry fans, even when it was racially motivated. For the pioneering African-American umpire, it was a small price to pay to be near the game he loved.

''People come to see their favorite players, to watch the game and to see the manager tell the umpire off. And it's part of my job to listen to him," he told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. ''When the crowd boos, I know I am probably doing something right."

Mr. Williams, 61, of Chicago, the first African-American umpire to work behind home plate in a World Series game, died Sept. 10, of complications from diabetes at Advocate Christ Medical Center, Oak Lawn, Ill.

Mr. Williams had worked as a major-league umpire for nearly two decades and was one of a few black umpires in major league history.

Diana Williams said her husband realized how lucky he was to be part of professional baseball, often saying that ''it's the best seat in the house, even though you've got to stand."

''He recognized that it was hard being a black umpire, that there were times that people had nasty racial things to say," she said. ''But the main thing is that he wanted to do a good job. He loved it."

Mr. Williams, who grew up in California, attended umpire school while working the night shift at a factory. He would often have to change clothes in the car before attending classes. After a stint in the minors, he reached the major leagues in 1982. He lived in the Chicago area for the last two decades.

Diana Williams said her husband relaxed with jazz and other tunes. When other umpires were chain-smoking and pacing, Mr. Williams never let the stress show, his wife said. ''The other wives would ask, 'What's Charlie doing? How is he?"' his wife recalled. ''I used to say, 'Charlie's asleep.' He was always so calm."

Not that he didn't take the sport seriously. He often brought home videotapes and stayed up late into the night if he thought he had missed a call.

Umpire Joe West, who started working with Mr. Williams in the Instructional League in the mid-1970s, said his colleague always tried to share his wisdom with younger umpires. ''He was just a great partner," West said. ''That's the big thing umpires look for: working together."

One of the highlights of Mr. Williams' professional career was the 1993 World Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, when he became the first African-American umpire to work behind home plate in the Fall Classic.

Diana Williams said her husband believed that umpiring offered valuable life lessons, especially when 40,000 fans were screaming that he blew it. ''One of the biggest things he learned was the ability to keep your self-confidence, even when somebody was saying you were wrong."

Mr. Williams retired in 2000.

He leaves a son, Charles Drake Williams; a daughter, Gabrielle Wilson; six sisters, Bobby Jean Spears, Ruth Ann Dawson, Alice Williams, Artie Bowen, Audrey Rodgers and Joy Germaine; and five grandchildren.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives