Walt “No Neck” Williams had no regard for his competition.
The 5-foot-6, stocky-built Brownwood native made it his mission to get the upper hand over his opponent, whether it was on the baseball diamond as a major league player or having hometown friends and family members wondering how they just got outsmarted in a game of cards and overmatched in a round of billiards.
Brownwood City Council member and close friend Draco Miller, 53, was one of his victims when it came to dominoes.
“You could never beat him,” said Miller, a friend of Williams for nearly a half-century who grew up in the same neighborhood. “He knew what you would play before you played it.”
“No Neck” Williams, known for hustling style of play as an outfielder, died this past Saturday in Abilene. He was 72. Funeral services for Williams will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Victory Life Church, with burial to follow at Greenleaf Cemetery.
Williams played from 1964 to 1975. He suited up for the Houston Colt 45’s, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees, with a career .270 batting average, 33 home runs, 640 hits, 284 runs scored and 173 RBIs. Two of his best seasons were in Chicago, where he hit .304 with 22 doubles in 1969 and .294 with 17 doubles, eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 1971.
Between his playing career and stints as a coach and manager for a pair of minor league clubs, Williams returned to Brownwood to serve as a coordinator for youth at the Bennie Houston Community Center with his buddy Miller.
There, he was able to teach kids and teenagers how to shoot a basketball, throw a football and properly hold and swing a bat.
“He was instrumental to this community,” said Miller, who added that the Bennie Houston “had died for a while” before Williams came back. “He was a mentor. He tutored both kids and adults, including myself.”
Brownwood native and current Howard Payne University assistant baseball coach Jerry Don Gleaton, who played in the majors for 13 years, remembers the first time he met Williams as a teenager.
Gleaton said he and a group of other kids took a charter bus from the Bennie Houston Center to Arlington to go see “No Neck” play the Rangers when he was a member of the Yankees.
Gleaton, 58, had known Williams for nearly two decades. The two would occasionally compete in a round of golf, one of their favorite hobbies.
“He always wanted to win,” Gleaton said. “He was a real quality guy.”
Miller said he’ll always remember Williams as a figure of the Brownwood community and how he rendered his services whenever they were needed.
“He was a good teacher — at life, sports, the body and how to keep it in shape,” he said. “He left too early. Right now he’s probably teaching God how to shoot a free throw,” he joked. “He’ll be greatly missed.”