Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The Freedom Fighter
Baseball history is filled with players who gave up parts of their careers to serve in the military. Legends like Ted Williams and Bob Feller sacrificed seasons in the prime of their Hall of Fame careers to fight in World War II. Yankees greats Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson were among dozens who served in Vietnam.
A fascinating story that has not been told enough, though, is that of former Twins pitcher Albert (Al) Williams.
In 1977, after spending two nondescript years in the lower levels of the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system, Williams returned to his home country of Nicaragua. While there he joined the Sandinistas - the Nicaraguan revolutionaries who were fighting to liberate their country from the brutal dictatorship of President Anastasio Somoza.
Williams fought for the Sandinistas for almost a year and a half. After the successful overthrow of the Somoza regime, Al returned to baseball, playing first in Panama and then Venezuela.
On January 6, 1980, he signed as a free agent with the Twins. He started 15 games for the Toledo Mud Hens, posting a 9-3 record and a sparkling 2.10 ERA. He was called up to the big leagues later that season and went 6-2 with a 3.51 ERA over 18 games for the Twins.
Williams followed with three more decent seasons as a member of the Twins rotation, and was the club's opening day starter in 1984. That would prove to be his last season, as he sputtered to a 5.77 ERA in only 68 innings. He hooked on with the New York Yankees organization in 1985 and spent the year pitching in relief for their Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers before disappearing from professional baseball.
In a 1981 quote in the New York Times, when asked about his time away from baseball while fighting with the Sandinistas, Williams said, "I really missed baseball the two years I was out of it, but I wasn't thinking about baseball all the time. I was just trying to stay alive."