Williams, Marsh

Primary Position: Relief pitcher
Birthplace: Faison

First, Last Names: Marshall McDiarmid Jr.    Nicknames: Cap

Date of Birth:  Feb. 21, 1893  Date and Place of Death: Feb. 22, 1935, Tucson, AZ
Burial: Faison Cemetery, Faison

High School: Undetermined
College: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-180
Debut Year: 1916       Final Year: 1916          Years Played: 1
Team and Year: Philadelphia Athletics, 1916

Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
10        0        6         0          7.89     51.1     17        -2.2

Marsh Williams was among the youngsters Connie Mack recruited from college campuses and brought to Philadelphia in 1916 in a desperate attempt to field a competitive team on the cheap. It was sink or swim, and Williams sank, lasting little more than a month on the worst team in modern baseball history.

He joined the Army a year later and was sent off to France, arriving just before World War I ended. Williams saw no action but was there long enough to contract tuberculosis. He moved to the Southwest where the dry climate made the disease slightly more tolerable. He died there, one day past his 42nd birthday.

Marshall Williams Jr., the second of four brothers, was born in Faison in 1893 to one of the oldest and most-prominent families in Duplin County. His great-great grandfather, it was said, fought with the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, during the revolution. His mother, Mary, who could trace her ancestry back almost to the Mayflower, was a well-known artist whose portraits hung at the State Capitol and whose landscapes depicted idealized scenes of her cherished antebellum South. Mary was also a leader with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, serving for two years as the president of the state chapter.[1]   

Later in life, she came to embody the Old South of the Lost Cause. “On entering the home of Mrs. Marshall Williams one at once feels the touch of that Southern Aristocracy and hospitality,” a newspaper reporter wrote in 1935. “Even before the face of that student of life appears, one can feel the atmosphere of Art and good taste.”[I]

Mary’s husband, Marshall Sr., listed his occupation in the 1900 census as a “logging contractor” and in 1910 as a bank cashier. He retired as president of the bank.

His son and namesake attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he starred on the baseball team. “Connie Mack has recognized in him possibilities of a league pitcher,” the school yearbook noted in 1916.[II]

Williams graduated that spring with a degree in electrical engineer. A couple of months later, he was pitching for Mack’s Athletics. A perennial powerhouse in the American League, the “Mackmen,” as sportswriters were fond of calling the team, had won six pennants and three World Series since the league formed in 1901. Hard times were at hand, though. The team had lost 109 games in 1915 and looked to be even worse as the new season began. Mack, the team’s longtime manager and part owner, recruited a “vast army” of college stars who converged on Philadelphia in the summer of 1916. Otis Lowry, a second baseman from the University of Maine, was one. Pitchers Jing Johnson of Ursinus College, Walter Whitaker of Tufts, and Charley Monohan of Villanova were others. Mack hoped to find a rough gem or two that would add luster to a dull lineup.[III]

The strategy failed miserably. None of the kids amounted to much as the Athletics went on to lose 117 games, while winning only 36. It’s the worst winning percentage since 1900. The team featured three pitchers who lost more than 20 games.[2]

Amid such flailing, Williams’ 0-6 record and 7.89 earned-run average in 51 innings stretched over six weeks doesn’t look so bad. Nevertheless, Mack cut him loose in August, and Williams’ baseball career was over.

He thought he found a new one when he joined the Coast Artillery Corps in March 1917, about a month before the United States officially entered the WWI. All his brothers would eventually enlist in the military.[3]

The corps, a unit of the Army, normally manned coastal fortifications in the United States and its overseas territories, but several of its battalions were sent to France. Williams set sail in October 1918, arriving about a month before Germany surrendered. Though he saw no fighting, he was promoted to captain – hence his nickname — and put in command of his battalion’s billeting camp in western France.[IV]

Williams returned home the following June a sick man. He appeared to want to make the Army his career because he served in several posts after the war, but his tuberculosis worsened and he had to retire in 1922. He was promoted to major eight years later because of a law passed by Congress.

In that era before antibiotics, the standard treatment for tuberculosis included fresh, dry, mountain air, which seemed to ease patients’ suffering and prolonged their lives. TB patients moving to Denver in the late 19th century, for instance, outnumbered gold seekers.

Williams, his wife, Lucy, and their two sons moved to Tucson, Arizona, after his retirement. Mary visited often.

Her son died in 1935, on the day after his birthday, of acute tuberculosis.

[1]The United Daughters of the Confederacy is a heredity association of women that formed in 1894 to commemorate those who fought for the South during the Civil War and to, ostensibly, erect memorials in their honor. Mary Marshall served as president of the state chapter from 1912-14, a time when the UDC was paying to erect Confederate statues in courthouse squares across the state. A century later, those statues triggered unrest in many North Carolina cities and towns. The UDC, many modern historians now say, promoted a sanitized version of the Civil War that minimized the role of slavery and idealized the pre-war South. The statues it erected at the seats of local power went up at a time when Jim Crow laws were being enacted throughout the old Confederacy that re-established White dominance and marginalized Black southerners. Many now view them as symbols of White power, not as war memorials, and demand that they be removed. Mary also chaired the committee that planned the state’s statue on the Gettysburg battlefield.
[2] The A’s compiled a .235 winning percentage. The 1935 Boston Braves (.248) and the 1962 New York Mets (.250) come the closest since 1900 to matching the A’s in futility. The team’s 20-game losers were: Bullet Joe Bush, 24 games; Elmer Myers, 23; and Jack Nabors, 20. Jim Sheehan lost 16.
[3] Lewis Williams, a medical doctor, was an assistant surgeon in the Navy. Rowland and Virginius joined the Army. All survived the war.

[I] “Faison’s First Lady Is Known Far and Wide.” Duplin (NC) Times, June 13, 1935.
[II]Yackety Yack (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC), 1916
[III] “Connie Mack’s Recruits Commence to Report.” York (PA) Gazette, June 22, 1916.
[IV] “Mother of Major Williams Gets Letter From War Dept.” Duplin (NC) Times, May 2, 1935.