Three Generations in Baseball:

Celebrating the Careers of “Wee Willie”, Art, & Billy Mills

Above left: Billy Mills, the reknown baseball comedian known as the “Clown Prince of Pantomime”. Center: Billy’s grandfather, William Grant Mills (known as “Wee Willie”), was a very talented pro pitcher.   Right: Billy’s father, Art Mills, was a National League pitcher; and revered coach for the Detroit Tigers.

With excerpts from Billy Mills and Scott Fiesthumel’s

“Diamond Dynasty: Three Generations In Baseball”

 

FIRST GENERATION


William Grant Mills, nicknamed “Wee Willie”, was born in Schenevus, New York in 1877, and began playing amateur ball there. Mills earned his nickname due to his stature; he stood only 5'7" and weighed about 150 lbs..He also played as an amateur in Oneonta and Utica before becoming a professional with Utica in 1899. He would post a 47-26 record with Utica in two seasons there; leading the club to the 1900 New York State League championship.

"Wee Willie"'s very first pro game with Utica in the New York State League in 1899 was a huge success. Opening day was practically a holiday in Utica, as the teams climbed aboard wagons to be part of a parade through the city streets that ended at Genesee Park. United States Congressman, James S. Sherman, a Utican, made a short speech and then tossed a baseball out to "Wee Willie" Mills. In five years, Sherman would be the Vice President of the United States under President William Taft. Interestingly, Taft became the first president to throw out the "first pitch" at a major league game, and it is quite possible that he got the idea from Sherman.

Diamond Dynasty

Three Generations In Baseball


Billy Mills and Scott Fiesthumel’s “Diamond Dynasty” (more on this fascinating book below) offers an intimate glimpse of three generations of a baseball family: “Wee Willie” Mills, Art Mills, and Billy Mills. Professionally entering baseball by 1899, “Wee Willie” pitched on several major league teams during his career, including, briefly, the New York Giants. Following in his father’s footsteps, Willie’s son, Art, was also a very talented ball player. Art also pitched in the National League, and was the coach of the Detroit Tiger’s 1945 World Series Championship. The third generation, Billy, became a legendary baseball comedian, entertaining hundreds of thousands of fans in virtually every part of the country during the post-war era of the 1950’s.

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THIRD GENERATION


Art's son, William Arthur Mills, better known as Billy, was born in Utica, New York on April 5, 1924. Billy also had a career in baseball. He wasn't a player like his father and grandfather, although he did play some amateur and semi-pro ball. Billy Mills traveled the country as a baseball comedian in the 1950s. He also appeared on television, at banquets, fairs, and other events. In this book, he tells many colorful stories of his family's years in baseball. In his book (co-authored by Scott Fiesthumel), Billy, a gifted storyteller, describes his friendship with New York Yankee great, Lefty Gomez, his memories of baseball's "natural," Eddie Waitkus, meeting Casey Stengel, and much, much more.

SECOND GENERATION


Wee Willie's son, Arthur Grant Mills, also became a ballplayer. Art was born in Utica, New York on March 2, 1903, and played amateur and semi-pro ball in Central New York State for several different ball clubs. As a 17-year-old, he served aboard the US Navy battleship USS New Mexico; where he played football on the fleet’s champion football team. He played baseball professionally with Binghamton, Barre-Montpelier, Pittsfield, Providence, Buffalo, Toronto, Boston, and Williamsport- and, most noteably, The Detroit Tigers.

Born April 5, 1924 in Utica, New York, Billy was passionate about baseball for as long as he can remember. His father, Art Mills, and his grandfather, “Wee Willie” Mills, both pitched professionally, with brief stints in the majors. Art Mills was also a coach with the Detroit Tigers from 1945 to 1949 (enjoying a World Series Championship in 1945).


Billy joined the Army in 1943, where he served in the Medical Corps in New Guinea and the Philippines. After the service, he returned home and traveled with a semi-pro baseball team based out of Utica. In 1947, stranded without funds in Delhi, New York, Billy decided to perform an impromptu baseball comedy act to get him and his teammates home. He was an immediate hit, and the following year he took his act on the road.

One of the highlights of Billy’s career was an appearance at the legendary Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York on July 24th, 1950. The Brooklyn Dodgers and Cleveland Indians played an exhibition game to benefit the Brooklyn Amateur Baseball Foundation. Before the game there were several events, including a performance by Tony Bennett, a catcher’s accuracy throwing contest (that included Hall of Famer Roy Campanella), and a home run hitting contest between Brooklyn’s Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, and Gil Hodges- and Cleveland’s Al Rosen, Luke Easter, Larry Doby, and Joe Gordon.


According to the New York Times, the highlight of the festivities, though, was Billy Mills’ hysterically funny, yet heart touching, routine. The review enthusiastically stated that “An imitation of the late Babe Ruth by baseball comedian Billy Mills was the most outstanding performance of the pre-game show.”

For the next eight years, Billy traveled the country to literally hundreds of baseball parks, conventions, and sports events. Although his routines were laugh-provoking, his well loved imitation of Babe Ruth was also known to bring a tear to the eye. Reports from the New York Times, New York Daily News, and the Daily Mirror praised his act with words like “new, endearing, entertaining, funny, refreshing...”.


Billy Mills’ career really took off in 1949. Minor League Baseball was reaching it’s peak of popularity, and ballparks were looking for attractions to draw fans. Billy traveled the length and breadth of America, covering virtually every part of the country. In his first two full seasons, 1949 and 1950, he performed for an estimated total of nearly 255,000 fans in about 100 ballparks; traveling approximately 80,000 miles to accomplish this.

Looking back, Billy Mills has had close friendships with many legendary baseball players; and has worked with- or met- a vast number of celebrities in various venues in the sports entertainment field. Among them are Lefty Gomez, Hal White, Joe DiMaggio, Billy Hassett, Joe Garagiola, Virgil Trucks, Whitey Ford, Ted Williams, Max Patkin, Roberto Clemente, and many, many others. Several of them, including Lefty Gomez and Hal White, were also very close friends. Like his father, Art, and his grandfather, Wee Willie, the allure of baseball- from the roar of the stadium; to the crack of the bat- runs through Billy Mills’ veins.

ABOVE: Billy Mills reviewing an exhibit about the baseball careers of his grandfather, “Wee Willie” Mills, his father, Art Mills, and himself, entitled “The Legends of Leatherstocking Country” at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1995.


BELOW: The exhibit continued nearby with a case full of articles and images honoring the “Diamond Dynasty: Three Generations in Baseball”.

By 1951, a typical schedule would begin on the West Coast, appearing in a dozen towns in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada. In June, he traveled to the midwest; July found him in the southern and southwestern states. August meant the Atlantic seaboard and eastern Canada; and September usually wrapped up the tour with all the eastern ballparks.

BASEBALL DYNASTY: Three Generations in Baseball


by Billy Mills and Scott Fiesthumel



To read more about Billy, Art, and Wee Willie Mills, “DIAMOND DYNASTY: THREE GENERATIONS IN BASEBALL” offers a first hand look at all three generations through the eyes of Billy Mills. Scott Fiesthumel, the coauthor of this highly inspirational and entertaining book, provided the expertise, dedication, and vision for this entire project.


From playing semi-pro ball for local factory teams, to major league debuts... to serving in the Pacific during WWII... to hilarious stories about the legendary Lefty Gomez... and much, much more. DIAMOND DYNASTY is a colorful and high spirited little book- taking the reader back in time on a fascinating journey into bygone America’s glorious golden years of baseball!


110 pages with 15 photos. Published by Erie Canal Productions, 2004/ ISBN 0-9715617-2-9

“It was 1946 or maybe ’47,” recalls Billy, “I’m out of the army, and I went with Dad out on the road with the Detroit Ball Club. I was a fan as much as anybody else. I wanted to see my dad and some of the other players. Bill sweeney was another coach on the ball club, and he had been with Joe DiMaggio on the West Coast when he started out. So he’s coaching with Detroit and they’re playing at yankee stadium. I was waiting for my dad outside the park after the game. My dad comes out after the game was over, and says, “How would you like to have dinner with DiMaggio?”


I thought he was kidding, but said, “Sure, great!”


So Dad said, “We’re going to meet him at Toots Shor’s with Sweeney.”


So, the three of us went to Toots Shor’s and got a table. It wasn’t long before in comes Joe D. Now I’m thinking, “This is ‘Superman’!”


I’m all excited about meeting Joe D. He shows up, has a couple of drinks, and is eating peanuts at the table. He doesn’t stay for dinner. He stayed about a half-hour, forty five minutes, talking about old times with the Pacific Coast league, Very quiet, unassuming guy. I said it was one of the biggest events in my life. It was memorable- but, somehow disappointing. I had it all built up to meet ‘Superman’. That’s how I and so many other people felt about DiMaggio. He was larger than life- and, I quess, it was an image in my mind. But when I met him, he was just a ‘nice, regular guy. It was a nice visit; I never saw him after that.”

Billy Mills ‘clowning around’ on his hometown television station, WKTV, in Utica, New York.

An extremely talented ball player, Art Mills reached the major leagues, in the National League like his father, “Wee Willie”. Art spent part of two seasons with the Boston Braves. He also reached the major leagues as a coach with the Detroit Tigers as a coach during their 1945 World Series Champiomship. In 1948, he was the only coach of their world championship team. Art finished his career as a coach for the Portland (Oregon) Beavers.

Art and Billy Mills in Portland, Oregon, 1951 (Art coached for the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League for three seasons).

The Utica Sunday Tribune described “Wee Willie” as "a very promising hurler. He has good speed and a full assortment of curves. He should show up in fine form". Mills would post a 47-26 record with Utica in two seasons there; leading the club to the 1900 New York State League championship. In 1901 he began the season with a 13-game winning streak while playing for Schenectady. This led to a cup of coffee with the New York Giants, for whom he pitched briefly. During his career, he also pitched for Montreal, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Rochester, and Toronto.

Art Mills became the second Utica native to win a World Series Championship (George Burns of the old New York Giants was the first, two decades earlier).

“My dad was a sharp dresser,” remembers Billy. “Matter of fact, one time in Buffalo he modeled a suit, topcoat, and hat for a big department store downtown. He was selected because he was a handsome guy. He got to keep the suit and hat, but he had to give the coat back.”

PHOTO ABOVE:  1945 Detroit Tigers; 88-65, .575, 1.5 games ahead, (WS: W 4-3 over Cubs). Art Mills is seated in the front row, fourth player from the left. PHOTO AT RIGHT:  an enlarged image of Art Mills, extracted from the team photo above).


Due to the war, Art was the only coach on the team, so the fact that he was both a good pitcher and a good hitter was a definite asset. This may be one of the reasons that Detroit’s manager, Steve O’Neill, had hired him; his abilities allowed him to coach players on more than just one aspect of the game.


Art’s quiet demeanor was a good influence on the war-time squad, because the team improved to second place, just one game behind the St. Louis Browns in 1944.

Billy Mills (Cooperstown, New York, 1995).

Billy and the Legendary Lefty Gomez


If ever Billy Mills had a kindred spirit in baseball, it was New York Yankees legend and Hall of Famer, Lefty Gomez. The slender 6'2" Gomez, with his high leg kick and smokin’ fastball, won 21 games for the Yankees with the support of teammates (co-members of the Baseball Hall of Fame), Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. Along with right-hander, Red Ruffing, this ‘lefty-righty’ combination was the core of the Yankees pitching staff in the 1930‘s. After a winning game the outspoken Gomez was once quoted as saying: "I want to thank all my teammates who scored so many runs- and Joe DiMaggio, who ran down so many of my mistakes."

Besides being an outstanding pitcher, Gomez was well known for his quick wit and eccentric personality. It was not surprising that Mills, “The Clown Prince of Pantomime”, and ‘Goofy’ (or ‘El Goofy’), would cross paths and become friends.


Billy on Lefty’s induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame, and other memories of Lefty:


“When Gomez went into the Hall of Fame, he went in with Yogi Berra. I think Lefty talked first. So Berra gets up to talk. Berra did all he could do to keep a straight face. When the thing was over, I asked Lefty, “What were you doing to Berra?” He says, “I kept telling him to zip up his pants.”


Lefty continued to delight fans as a broadcaster. After his heart operation in 1980, he said “Just had a triple bypass operation. Only triple I ever got.”


“We were out at dinner one time and Lefty ordered a double ‘Shirley Temple’. He’d always leave people laughing. When he died, we sent a card out to his wife, the actress June O’Dea. We received a note from her saying, “Weren’t we all fortunate to have been a part of Lefty’s love and laughter?” It was nice the way she said it.”


To read more about Billy Mills’ dear friend, the Great Lefty Gomez,  CLICK HERE!

Arthur (“Art”) Grant Mills

William (“Wee Willie”) Grant Mills

Legendary Baseball Comedian and “Clown Prince of Pantomime”, Billy Mills. As usual, here’s Billy working his magic with his own distinct brand of humor!

Billy Mills and his lovely wife of 61 years, Jeannette (photo: Alison Coppola 2005).

And there’s more...

Billy Mills: A True American Legend in Baseball.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME



Katie Casey was base ball mad.
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go,
To see a show but Miss Kate said,
"No, I'll tell you what you can do."


"Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game."


Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names;
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:



"Take me out to the ball game,

Take me out with the crowd.

Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,

I don't care if I never get back,

Let me root, root, root for the home team,

If they don't win it's a shame.

For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,

At the old ball game."




Author: Jack Norworth
Composer: Albert Von Tilzer
Published on: 1908, 1927
Published by: York Music Company

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”-  dedicated to Billy’s father, Art Mills.



CLICK ON THE BASEBALL to view this very well produced musical video with Edward Meeker singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”- recorded in 1908. This unforgettable classic, dedicated to Arthur Grant Mills, is from the Marnan Collection LLC  © Mark Ryan.      

The inimitable Billy Mills, legendary baseball comedian, is, indeed, a national treasure. Here he is joking around with an enchanted Kate Smith on the "KATE SMITH SHOW" (at the old Hudson Theater in New York City back in 1952). Just a year later, Billy won the National Baseball Congress Award for “the person who did the most to increase fan interest in baseball”, joining previous winners, Connie Mack, Dizzy Dean, and Joe E. Brown.