This annotated week in baseball history: July 5-July 11, 1955by Richard Barbieri
July 10, 2009
On July 9, 1955 Willie Wilson was born. The longtime Kansas City Royal won a World Series, a Gold Glove and two All-Star spots. But is that enough to get him on the All-Wilson Team?
A study (published in Sociologists with Too Much Free Time Monthly, if I remember correctly) said a ballplayer’s name can affect on his performance. For example, players whose names begin with “K” are more likely to strike out. Similarly, students who have “C” or “D” names apparently have lower GPAs than those “A” or “B” names.
I’m not sure I actually believe any of this, but it does raise an interesting question: Can the success of a similarly named person carry into one’s life? For example, there is a Richard Barbieri who is a relatively successful keyboard player for a band. Does his success inspire me to better baseball writing?
And what of Woodrow Wilson, who served as President from 1913 through 1921? Shortly after Wilson left office, the only two Hall of Fame Wilsons began their playing careers: Hack Wilson for the Giants and Jud Wilson for the Baltimore Black Sox.
(As a trivia aside, eight Presidents share their surname with a Hall of Fame player, with one repeat. Can you name them? Answer at the bottom.)
In any case, while Hack and Jud are the best of the major league Wilsons, they are not the only ones. So in honor of Willie Wilson specifically, and the now long-past Golden Age of the Baseball Wilsons, I bring you the All-Wilson team:
Catcher: Dan Wilson: A longtime Seattle Mariner—he spent all but the first 48 games of his career there—Wilson was an average hitter who rode a hot start in 1996 (.308 average, 12 home runs) to an All-Star appearance that year. Perhaps cruelly, I largely remember Wilson for his horrendous playoff performance. He hit just .091 in 30 games, and once went 42 playoff at-bats without a hit.
First base: Craig Wilson: The third of three men named Craig Wilson to play in the major leagues, and also the best one. For a brief while it appeared the Pirates, Craig’s original team, had a decent player when he put together back-to-back good seasons in 2003 and 2004. Wilson aged badly, unfortunately for him, and spent all of 2008 in the minor leagues.
Second base: Enrique Wilson: A source of endless frustration for Yankee fans, Wilson first earned their (which to say, my) ire in the 1998 playoffs when he scored the go-ahead run for Cleveland in Game Two of the ALCS. He then came to New York and hit .216 across four years of occasional usage.
Shortstop: Jack Wilson: Like Craig and Enrique once were, Jack is a Pirate currently, and may soon join them as an ex-Pirate. Sometimes a good hitter—as in 2004 and 2007; he made the All-Star team the former year—but mostly not, Wilson has now played more than 1,100 games for variously bad Pirates teams. So while the All-Wilson Squad may not be anything special, he’ll probably enjoy being on a new team.
Third base: Jud Wilson: A Negro Leaguer, Jud had the misfortune of playing his career before Jackie Robinson. Wilson was a great player, maybe the best here, credited by Satchel Paige as one of the two toughest outs in Negro League baseball, and by Josh Gibson as the Negro Leagues' best hitter.
Left field: Hack Wilson: Presumably the clean-up hitter for this squad, Hack is best known for his 191 RBI in 1930, which remains the single-season record. (That will get broken someday, but no one has come within 25 of it since Jimmie Foxx in 1938.) From 1926 through 1930 he hit .331 while averaging 32 double and 35 home runs.
Center field: Willie Wilson: Ah, the birthday boy at last. This is cheating a little bit, since Hack Wilson was primarily a center fielder in his day. But Willie is a better fielder—he won a Gold Glove in 1980—and Hack is a better option in left than any Wilson who played there regularly. Best known for his tenure with the Kansas City Royals, Willie was a tall, thin speedster. He still ranks 12th all-time in stolen bases, and used the Kansas City turf masterfully, leading the league in triples five times.
Right field: Preston Wilson: Another bit of a cheat, since like his outfield compatriots Preston was more of a center fielder than a right fielder. But he is a superior option to '80s outfielder Glenn Wilson, so Preston gets the nod. A one-time NL RBI leader—just 50 behind Hack’s 1930 total—Preston was a high strikeout player but average hitter to round out the team.
Nicknames: Highball Wilson, Icehouse Wilson, Mookie Wilson: I don’t have to much to say about these guys, except that you know it’s a great set of nicknames when “Mookie” is the third best one. Incidentally, I am working on the assumption that “Highball” got his nickname from his pitching style rather than his fondness for a cocktail. But it’s pretty enjoyable in any case.
Mascot: Wilson (I mean, who else would it be?)
Manager: Jimmie Wilson: Probably a better choice at catcher than Dan Wilson, but I’ve been trying to get that playoff hitless streak thing into a column for ages. And anyway, Jimmie is the only Wilson to manage in the majors. Admittedly he had a rough time of it—finishing with a winning percentage just above .400—but perhaps he can guide his similarly named fellows to more success.
Unusually for these ridiculous teams I assemble, given these players at the peak of their powers, the All-Wilson team would actually contend, especially if one-time Astro Don Wilson can be a starting pitcher and current San Francisco Giant Brian Wilson is the closer.
While I can’t say for sure that Wilson is the dominant last name in baseball history—Johnson and Jackson, off the top my head would both be contenders, and there might yet be more Alous out there—it is at least in the elite category. That would make Woodrow proud, no doubt.
Trivia answer: Andrew Jackson (Reggie, Travis), Zachary Taylor (Ben), Andrew/Lyndon Johnson (Walter, Judy), Ulysses Grant (Frank), Woodrow Wilson (Jud, Hack), Gerald Ford (Whitey), Jimmy Carter (Gary)
Questions, comments and thinly veiled threats can be mailed to Richard on the back of a twenty dollar bill or e-mailed to him at RichardBarbieri@yahoo.com