Jim "Junior" Gilliam (1928
) was a slick-fielding, switch-hitting infielder
for the legendary "Boys of Summer
" Brooklyn Dodgers
dynasty that dominated the National League
in the 1950s
Born in Tennessee, Gilliam showed a talent for baseball from an early age. A five-tool player, Gilliam was the youngest player on the team when he signed with the Negro League Baltimore Elite Giants in 1940 as a second baseman. Gilliam soon teamed up with shortstop Pee Wee Butts to become part of one of the best double-play combos in Negro League history during the 1940s, and was named to the Negro NL East All-Star team three consecutive years from 1948-1950.
The Dodgers signed Gilliam in 1951 and assigned him to their top farm club at Montreal, where he led the International League in runs scored each of the next two seasons (117 in 1951 and 111 in 1952). He also lead the league in fielding percentage in 1952, convincing the Dodgers to call him up to the majors for the 1953 season.
Gilliam made a big splash in first year with Brooklyn, setting league rookie record with 100 walks, leading the NL with 17 triples, and scoring 125 runs, earning himself the Rookie of the Year award and helping lead the team to the World Series. Gilliam quickly became known as a speedster on the basepaths, scoring at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons, and finishing second to Willie Mays in stolen bases three times, in 1956, 1957 and 1959.
Gilliam had another big year during the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles, leading the 1958 club in hits, doubles, steals, walks, and fielding percentage. The next season, Gilliam helped lead the team to its first World Series title on the West Coast, and later returned to the Series with Los Angeles in 1963, 1965, and 1966.
After the 1966 season, Gilliam retired and became the Dodgers' third base coach. Gilliam had helped sustain one of the most successful eras in Dodger history - in his 14 seasons with the Dodgers, Gilliam went to seven World Series.
Gilliam died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage just before the Dodgers were to appear in the 1978 World Series. Always a fan-favorite for his effortless talent and ceaseless hustle, Gilliam's death shocked and saddened Dodgers fans on two coasts, and the team responded by immediately retiring his number 19.