John Wilson

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Right-hander John Samuel Wilson worked parts of the 1927 season and a few innings in two early 1928 games for the Boston Red Sox. His record was 0-2 –both decisions coming in 1927 – with a career earned run average of 4.45. He went on to play minor-league ball all the way into the 1945 season.

Wilson was born to Alabama natives Will S. Wilson, a house carpenter, and Martha C. Wilson on April 25, 1903, in Coal City, Alabama.1 He was their middle child listed in the 1910 census – William, John, and Clem.

John's first professional baseball assignment appears to have been in 1926 with the Sanford Celeryfeds in the Class-D Florida State League. Under manager Lee Crowe, Sanford won both halves of the split season schedule, finishing with a 67-36 record. They benefitted greatly from Ben Cantwell's 24-5 record, a winning percentage that led the league (as did the number of victories), Otto Dumas’s league-leading .361, and Ralph Dunbar's 95 runs scored, tops in the league.

Wilson worked hard, pitching 269 innings for Sanford, and his own record was a solid 16-8, one of the wins a no-hitter against Bradenton. He was selected by the Red Sox in the October 1 minor-league draft.2

Burt Whitman, writing in the Boston Herald very early in spring training, described Wilson as "a tall drink of water," adding he "gives the impression of awkwardness but may show some stuff later."3 Wilson was listed at 6-feet-2 and 164 pounds. When Whitman wrote those lines, Wilson had only been married for a day. He wed Mary Elizabeth Adams on March 2, 1927.

Wilson may have been scouted by Hugh Duffy of the Boston Red Sox. A January 1927 article talked about Duffy's scouting Red Rollings and in the next sentence talked about Wilson, who was said to have been "eagerly sought by the Pittsburg Pirates." Both Rollins and Wilson were described as "admirable physical specimens and fast on their feet."4

Bill Carrigan, who had led the Red Sox to back-to-back world championships in 1915 and 1916, was enticed back from life in Maine in an attempt to lead the team out of the doldrums. The Sox had finished in last place every year from 1922 through 1926, save 1924 when they finished seventh.

Carrigan's leadership didn't do the trick. The Red Sox finished last in 1927, 1928, and 1929; then he finally quit baseball for good.

In 1927 spring training, though (held at New Orleans), Carrigan was looking to build a team to compete and Wilson became one of his choices.His first appearance didn't come until May 9, however, when he worked in a game at Detroit's Navin Field with the Tigers leading, 15-6. Wilson threw the final three innings, giving up two runs on six hits and three walks, striking out two. A bases-loaded strikeout of Johnny Bassler kept it from perhaps being a lot worse.

In the second game of the Memorial Day doubleheader in Washington, he took over for Del Lundgren, who'd already been banged around for 11 runs; Wilson got the final 10 outs of the game, giving up a couple of more runs in the process on a two-run homer by Bucky Harris.

He threw two hitless innings on June 2 at Fenway against the White Sox (though Chicago scored a run due to two errors by the Boston defense) but was optioned out to Pittsfield two days later. He had some good games, like the July 4 game against Albany in which he allowed one hit through the first seven innings. Later in the season, he was moved to Waterbury. His combined Eastern League record was 7-12 with a 3.98 ERA. Pittsfield finished in third place, just three games out of first in the Eastern League, but Waterbury finished next to last.

Wilson returned to the Red Sox at the end of the season but didn't pitch again until September 26. He threw two complete games, losing that day's second game, 11-1 (though only four of the runs were earned; his teammates committed 10 errors, four by catcher Bill Moore), then took a 3-2 loss with one of the three runs unearned in the second game of an October 1 doubleheader. At season's end he was 0-2with an ERA of 3.55, distinctly better than the team's 4.72 ERA. Wilson's WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was 1.737, as opposed to the team's 1.582. Though Carrigan almost certainly didn't know those numbers, the Sox manager was a former catcher and he would have known that Wilson, overall, was subpar even for the Red Sox.

Wilson spent the winter in Boston and was part of the group that headed out from South Station to spring training in Bradenton, Florida, on February 20. As the workouts were just getting underway, the Boston Globe's Melville Webb wrote that the team pinned a lot of hopes on Wilson and two other pitchers, Herb Bradley and Ed Morris. "Jack Wilson indicated today that he has been giving his work a lot of thought."5At the end of February, Webb felt he'd begun to get his control and that "of the pitchers, Jack Wilson looked the best."6

The sportswriter began to lose faith in him, however. Webb's characterization of him after the exhibition season was well underwayread, "Wilson continues to show as much 'stuff' as any other pitcher, but, like Wiltse, he is not a boxman who holds his best pace when doing so means that the Sox can hold an edge."7

Wilson stuck with the team in 1928, though, and worked in the home opener at Fenway Park, albeit again in mop-up work. The Senators held a 6-0 lead through four; Wilson got the final two outs of the frame and then went on to pitch four more innings, allowing two more runs. Washington won, 8-4. His last appearance in a major-league game came on April 24, when he pitched just one-third of an inning in Philadelphia and gave up three runs on four hits, being removedafter the Athletics executed a squeeze bunt for a single, the pitcher followed with a single, and the rattled Wilson threw a wild pitch. The Athletics won, 11-6. On May 3 Wilson was sent outright to Pittsfield, with whom the Red Sox had a working agreement.

This year he did much better with the Pittsfield Hillies, winning more than he lost (the SABR Minor League database reports his record as 16-10 with a 3.16 ERA, but the Springfield Republican reports his record was 10-7.)8 He fared much more poorly in 1929 (8-19, 4.22), even though Pittsfield won a little more than half its games. His 19 losses led the league.

From 1930 through 1932, Wilson pitched in the International League for the Buffalo Bisons. It was Double-A ball, but Wilson had a losing record each year and ERAs that average a little more than five runs per nine innings.

He split 1933, on a Chicago White Sox contract, between Buffalo and Jersey City, producing a combined 15-6 mark, but with a still far-from-compelling 4.11 ERA. In 1934, it was back to Buffalo and an even 11-11 (4.57).

Then he headed south for part of 1935, and was 4-2 for Fort Worth – but wound up again with Buffalo (3-1) and remained with Buffalo in 1936 (14-7, 3.78) and part of 1937, a year split with work for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1938, Wilson was with Toronto again, but was just 1-1 in eight games.

The year 1939 saw a move to the American Association – also Double-A ball – and two seasons with Indianapolis, on a Cincinnati Reds contract.

It appears Wilson dropped out of pro ball in 1941 and took up work with the Thomaston Cotton Mill in Thomaston, Georgia. Though too old for the military draft, he enlisted in the United States Army on October 26, 1942. For reasons not known at this point, he was out of the service before too many months had passed. In 1943 he played for three teams in the Southern Association – the Chattanooga Lookouts, Montgomery Rebels, and Atlanta Crackers. Chattanooga was an affiliate of the Washington Senators, but despite wartime exigencies, Wilson was never called back to the big leagues. He pitched in 1943, 1944, and 1945, with a declining number of innings, hardly surprising since he had passed age 40.

After the war, returning veterans filled most of the slots. Wilson took up residence in Chattanooga and worked as a carpet salesman.

Wilson died on August 27, 1980, at a hospital in Chattanooga.As an Army veteran, he is buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Wilson's player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Baseball records have always had him as born in 1905, but the 1910 census lists him as 7 years old, his 1941 draft registration gives the 1903 date, and his brief obituary in the September 20, 1980, issue of The Sporting News says he was 77 at the time.

2New York Times, October 2, 1926.

3 Burt Whitman, Boston Herald, March 4, 1927.

4 Burton Whitman, Boston Herald, January 16, 1927.

5 Melville E. Webb, Jr., Boston Globe, February 24, 1928.

6 Melville E. Webb, Jr., Boston Globe, March 1, 1928.

7 Melville E. Webb, Jr., Boston Globe, April 8, 1928.

8 Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, March 14, 1929.