Lewis Robert "Hack" Wilson (1900 - 1948)

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About Lewis Robert "Hack" Wilson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hack_Wilson

Lewis Robert "Hack" Wilson (April 26, 1900 – November 23, 1948) was an American professional baseball player who played 12 seasons with the New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. He is best remembered for his 1930 season with the Cubs, one of the best individual single-season hitting performances in Major League Baseball history. His record of 191 runs batted in has withstood serious challenge for over 80 years. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

Wilson was one of the most accomplished power hitters in the game during the late 1920s and early 1930s. His batting talent and propensities for fighting and excessive alcohol consumption made him one of the most colorful sports personalities of his era. His drinking and fighting undoubtedly contributed to a premature end to his athletic career and, ultimately, his premature demise.

Baseball career

Early life and minor leagues

Wilson grew up in the Pennsylvania steel mill town of Ellwood City. Although only five feet six inches tall, he weighed 195 pounds, and had an 18-inch neck and size-6 shoes. One sportswriter observed that he was "built along the lines of a beer keg, and was not wholly unfamiliar with its contents." His odd physique — large head, tiny feet, short legs and broad, flat face, described in detail in a recent biography — are now readily recognizable as hallmarks of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, making his later accomplishments, in the face of a crippling congenital disability, all the more remarkable.

Wilson dropped out of school in the sixth grade, then went to work swinging a sledge hammer at a locomotive factory for a salary of four dollars a week. In 1921 he traveled to Martinsburg, West Virginia to play for the Martinsburg Mountaineers of the Blue Ridge League.[10] In his first professional appearance he broke a leg, and was forced to switch from catcher to outfielder. In 1923 he played for the Portsmouth Truckers and led the Virginia League in hitting with a .388 batting average in 115 games. New York Giants manager John McGraw purchased Wilson's contract from Portsmouth for $10,500 late in the season, and he made his major league debut with the Giants on September 29, 1923.

New York Giants

Wilson's stocky physical appearance earned him the nickname Hack, after a popular wrestler of the day named Georg Hackenschmidt. He became the starting left fielder for the Giants in 1924 after Billy Southworth fell into a hitting slump. By mid-July he was ranked second in the National League in hitting. Wilson ended the season with a .295 average along with 10 home runs and 57 runs batted in as the Giants clinched the National League pennant. In the 1924 World Series he posted a .233 average as the Giants were defeated by the Washington Senators in seven games.

On April 19, 1925 Wilson hit the longest home run on record at Ebbets Field during a game against the Brooklyn Robins, but he fell into a slump in May and was replaced in left field by Irish Meusel. On July 2 Wilson tied a major league record set by Ken Williams in 1922 by hitting two home runs in one inning. In August the Giants sent him to their minor league affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association. At season's end a front office oversight left him unprotected on the Toledo roster, and the last-place Chicago Cubs acquired him on waivers.

Glory years with the Cubs

Wilson regained his form as the Cubs' centerfielder in 1926 and soon became a favorite of Chicago fans. On May 24 he hit the center field scoreboard with one of the longest home runs in Wrigley Field history as the Cubs came from behind to defeat the Boston Braves. Later that evening he made news again when he was arrested during a police raid of a Prohibition-era speakeasy while trying to escape through the rear window. Wilson ended the season with a league-leading 21 home runs along with 36 doubles, 109 runs batted in, a .321 batting average and a .406 on base percentage. He ended the year ranked fifth in voting for the 1926 National League Most Valuable Player Award as the Cubs improved to fourth place.

Wilson had another strong performance in 1927, once again leading the league in home runs to help drive the Cubs into first place heading into the final month of the season; but the team faltered, finishing once again in fourth place. He ended the year posting a .318 average, 30 home runs and 129 runs batted in. Wilson also led National League outfielders with 400 put-outs. He led the National League in home runs for a third consecutive year in 1928 with 31, along with 120 RBIs and a .313 average.

Wilson had a combative streak, and frequently initiated fights with opposing players as well as fans. On June 22, 1928, a near-riot broke out in the ninth inning of a game at Wrigley Field against the St. Louis Cardinals when Wilson jumped into the box seats to attack a heckling fan. An estimated 5,000 spectators swarmed the field before police could separate the combatants and restore order.[26] The fan sued him for $20,000, but a jury ruled in Wilson's favor. The following year, Wilson took offense at a remark made by Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ray Kolp. Upon reaching first base after hitting a single, Wilson charged into the Reds dugout and punched Kolp several times before they could be separated.[28] Later that evening at the train station, Wilson exchanged words with Cincinnati player Pete Donohue before lashing out with two blows, sending Donohue to the ground. In late 1929 Wilson signed a contract to fight Art Shires of the Chicago White Sox in a boxing match; but when Shires lost a fight to Chicago Bears player George Trafton in December, Wilson backed out, claiming no benefit to fighting a defeated boxer.

In 1929 Wilson hit .345 with 39 home runs and set a National League single-season record with 159 RBIs.He and new teammate Rogers Hornsby (who also contributed 39 home runs) led the Cubs to their first National League pennant in eleven years. Despite hitting .471 in the World Series against Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, Wilson is largely remembered for the two errors he committed in Game 4 at Shibe Park. The Cubs were leading by a score of 8 to 0 when the Athletics mounted a 10-run rally in the seventh inning. Wilson lost two fly balls in the sun; the second, with two runners on base, led to an inside-the-park home run by Mule Haas. The Athletics won the game 10 to 8. Cubs manager Joe McCarthy reportedly told a boy asking for a baseball after the game, "Come back tomorrow and stand behind Wilson, and you'll be able to pick up all the balls you want!" The Athletics won again the next day to take the Series in five games.

1930: The peak

Wilson's 1930 season, aided by a lively ball wound with special Australian wool, is considered one of the best single-season hitting performances in baseball history. By the middle of July he had accumulated 82 RBIs. In August he hit 13 home runs and 53 RBIs, and by September 15 he had reached 176 RBIs, breaking Lou Gehrig's 1927 mark. He ended the season with 190, along with a National League record 56 home runs, .356 batting average, .454 on-base percentage, and a league-leading .723 slugging percentage. He was named the National League's unofficial most valuable player by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

In 1999 the Commissioner of Baseball officially increased Wilson's 1930 RBI total to 191 after a box score analysis by baseball historian Jerome Holtzman revealed that Charlie Grimm had mistakenly been credited with an RBI actually driven home by Wilson. 191 RBIs remains one of baseball's most enduring records; only Gehrig (184) and Hank Greenberg (183) ever came close, and there have been no serious threats in the last 70 years. (Closest was 165 by Manny Ramirez in 1999.) Wilson's 56 home runs that same year stood as the National League record until 1998 when it was broken by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

Decline

Wilson's success in the 1930 season only served to fuel his drinking habits, and in 1931 he reported to spring training 20 pounds overweight. In addition, the National League responded to the prodigious offensive statistics of the previous year (the only season ever in which the league as a whole batted over .300) by introducing a heavier ball with raised stitching to allow a better grip and sharper curveballs. Wilson complained that the new Cubs manager, former teammate Rogers Hornsby, didn't allow him to "swing away" as much as Joe McCarthy had. He went into a protracted hitting slump and was benched in late May. By late August, Cubs owner William Wrigley, Jr. publicly expressed his desire to trade him. On September 6 the Cubs suspended him without pay for the remainder of the season after a fight with reporters just after boarding a train in Cincinnati; he was hitting only .261 with 13 home runs at the time.

During the 1931-32 off-season the Cubs traded Wilson and Bud Teachout to the St. Louis Cardinals for Burleigh Grimes. The Cardinals promptly traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers for minor league player Bob Parham in early 1932. Wilson produced 123 RBIs along with 23 home runs and a .297 batting average in 1932, but his offensive production dropped in 1933, and he was hitting just .245 when the Dodgers released him mid-season in 1934. He was signed immediately by the Philadelphia Phillies but released again after less than a month due to his lack of hitting. After a final season in the minor leagues with the Albany Senators, Wilson retired at the age of 35.

Career statistics

In a 12-year major league career, Wilson played in 1,348 games and accumulated 1,461 hits in 4,760 at bats for a .307 career batting average and a .395 on-base percentage. He struck 244 homers and batted in 1,063 runs, leading the National League four times in home runs and surpassing 100 RBIs six times. Defensively, he finished his career with a .965 fielding percentage.

Life after baseball

Wilson returned to Martinsburg where he opened a pool hall, but encountered financial problems due to a failed sporting goods business venture, and then a divorce. By 1938 he was working as a bartender near Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, where he sang for drinks, but had to quit because customers became too abusive.[48] A night club venture in suburban Chicago was another financial failure. In 1944 he took a job as a good-will ambassador for a professional basketball team in Washington D.C., where he lamented that fans remembered his two dropped fly balls in the 1929 World Series far more vividly than his 56 home runs and 191 RBIs in 1930. Unable to find work in professional baseball, he moved to Baltimore where he worked as a tool checker in an airplane manufacturing plant, and later as a laborer for the City of Baltimore. When municipal authorities realized who he was, he was made the manager of a Baltimore public swimming pool.

On October 4, 1948 Wilson was discovered unconscious after a fall in his home. The accident didn't appear serious at first, but pneumonia and other complications developed, and he died of internal hemorrhaging on November 23, 1948 at the age of 48. Wilson died penniless and his son refused to claim his remains. National League President Ford Frick finally sent money to cover his funeral expenses. In marked contrast to Babe Ruth's funeral, which had been attended by thousands just three months earlier, only a few hundred people were present for Wilson's services. He is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Martinsburg, West Virginia. A Martinsburg street is named Hack Wilson Way in his honor.

In 1979 Wilson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

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Hack Wilson's Timeline

1900
April 26, 1900
1948
November 23, 1948
Age 48
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