Wills’ great grandfather pitched in MLB during era of Ruth and Cobb

Communications Staff — March 12, 2009

Baseball runs in the blood of one Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor—literally.

Greg Wills’ great grandfather, Henry Roberson, pitched for three Major League teams and later three minor league teams before retiring in the early 1930s. He was 42-37 in the Major Leagues with an earned run average of 2.53.

One of Roberson’s claims to fame is a head-to-head victory pitching against Babe Ruth during the 1918 season when Roberson played for the New York Yankees and Ruth
pitched for the Boston Red Sox.

Nicknamed “Rube,” Roberson played for the Pittsburg Pirates from 1911-1913, the St. Louis Cardinals from 1914-1915 and the Yankees in 1918, missing the two intervening seasons while serving the U.S. armed forces in World War I. In some record books his last name is wrongly listed as Robinson.

Roberson, a left-handed pitcher, played during the early years of Major League Baseball—the “Dead Ball Era,” so-called because home runs were rare—when such legends as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson populated the diamond.

Following his Major League career Roberson played in the Southern Association, a minor league famous for its refusal to integrate even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. One of the best-known minor leagues in baseball history that began play in 1895, the Southern Association shut down following the 1961 season.

Roberson’s Southern Association teams included the Little Rock Travelers, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Atlanta Crackers.

Roberson led the Southern Association in earned run average both in 1922 and 1925 while pitching for Little Rock. In 1922, he led the association in innings pitched with 327 and wins with 26. He also led the league in wins in 1919—the year of the famous “Black Sox” scandal in
Major League Baseball—with 23. He helped the Travelers to victory in the 1920 Southern World Series, the club’s first Southern Association pennant.

Wills was only three years old when his great grandfather died and has no memories of him. He does, however, have many memories of eating Oreo cookies and drinking 7 Up after school at the home of Roberson’s widow.

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