Lisa Norton, Development & Communications Manager
December 11, 2020
As a baseball player in the 1950s, Bill Hill was exceptional. But that doesn’t mean he was treated that way.
He was first recruited by the Brooklyn Dodgers when he was just 14 years old – too young to actually be a part of the organization. But a few years later, Bill went down to Florida to try out for the New York Giants.
“That’s the first team he got signed with,” Bill’s wife Martha recounted. “It was really hard because he was the only black person on the team. He got discriminated against a lot.”
Bill traveled from Detroit to Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he reported to a Class D farm team. But because of his skin color, he wasn’t allowed to travel, eat, or reside with his white teammates. Instead, he stayed above the black-owned funeral home in town and had to wait for a separate ride to the ballpark each day.
“The boys on the team, they loved him. But the manager wasn’t very good. He didn’t take care of my husband like he should,” Martha explained. “And the boys from the North — they didn’t like it. The white boys, they would say, ‘Well, if he can’t stay in the hotel, we will stay where he can stay.’ The manager would tell them, ‘No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to be separated.’ It was really bad back in those days.”
Despite Bill’s team advocating for him, the manager tired of having to make separate accommodations for Bill, and released him for the season. But back in Detroit, Bill was introduced to Buck O’Neil of the Kansas City Monarchs. He asked Bill to throw five pitches: fastballs and curveballs. When O’Neil saw Bill pitch, he offered to sign him on the spot and said he would use him that day, if possible
Bill played with the Monarchs in the Negro Leagues for the 1955 season and was voted Rookie of the Year. He also had the honor of playing with the great Monarch pitcher Satchel Paige, who treated Bill like a son.
Bill played with a few more teams as his contract was sold and he moved from city to city. But an injury to his pitching arm in 1957 ended his career early – as a player, that is. Bill continued to teach the game he loved to young people in Detroit and Sumpter Township, serving as a volunteer baseball coach and basketball coach. But these days, another team is looking out for Bill.
Bill started home hospice care with Angela Hospice in July 2020. In addition to his wife Martha and their family, Bill has nurse Jane, social worker A.J., and hospice aide Vanessa taking care of him.
“He’s just such a gentle soul,” said nurse Jane Vass. “It’s a real honor to care for him and be there for his wife.”
“He has the good days and the bad days,” Martha said. “Sometimes are better than others. It’s kind of hard because I’ve never gone through something like this before either.”
Martha said it’s a help to have Angela Hospice’s support.
“So far it’s seemed pretty good,” she explained. “We’re just doing the best we can right now.”
With the pandemic in full swing, more hospice visits are provided by telephone or telehospice when possible. Hospice aide Vanessa Rucker visits twice a week in person to provide care for Bill.
“He’s a very pleasant man,” said Vanessa, who is also a baseball fan. “He gets really excited when you talk about baseball.”