Icehouse Wilson (SANTA CRUZ NEWS, February 2, 1934)

Icehouse Wilson

This article was written by Chad Moody


Icehouse Wilson (SANTA CRUZ NEWS, February 2, 1934)As a teenager, Icehouse Wilson modestly aspired to become a draftsman; he did not have high hopes of attending college. Wilson also saw “no future in baseball for himself.”1 Only a few years after graduating from high school, however, he was a college football star. And shortly thereafter, Wilson became a major-league baseball player — albeit only for a “cup of coffee.”

George Peacock Wilson’s parents (David and Annie) and three older siblings (Annie, John, and Robert) emigrated from Scotland to Arizona just prior to the 1910s. The first American-born family member, Wilson’s older brother David, was born in the Grand Canyon State during the brief year or so the family spent there before ultimately migrating even further west. After the clan finally put down roots in California, George was born on September 14, 1912, in Maricopa, a small Golden State town about 40 miles southwest of Bakersfield. During Wilson’s early childhood, his family eventually settled in San Leandro, a growing suburb of Oakland. There, the family patriarch was a machinist at a tractor manufacturer, while the matriarch was a homemaker.

During his years at San Leandro High School, Wilson displayed both intelligence and leadership qualities. In addition to his membership on the scholastic honor roll, Wilson also served his school as class treasurer and president of the athletic honor organization.2 He excelled as a multisport athlete for the Pirates, earning varsity letters in baseball, basketball, and football.3 Despite at the time having only one year of high school baseball under his belt, the 15-year-old decided to try out for the talented Montgomery Ward Oakland Post No. 5 junior team in 1928. Coach Leroy Sharp “discerned his ability to play any infield with the exception of pitcher, and gave him a berth.”4

Wilson only played a limited role as a utility infielder for the club; however, he took the opportunity to further refine his diamond skills — and enjoy the team’s success. Traveling across the country, the Ward team won 18 straight games — including 14 shutouts — en route to becoming American Legion Junior world champions and gaining national renown.5 Although disappointingly just six hours too old to play junior ball for a second season, Wilson nonetheless helped “whip into shape” the 1929 team.6

Outside of sports and academics, census information indicates that Wilson worked as an “office boy” at an oil company in 1930. After graduating from high school that same year, he enrolled at nearby St. Mary’s College. Aside from furthering his education, Wilson’s primary ambition was to play college baseball.7 And despite being “far more prominent” in high school as a baseball rather than football player, he nonetheless immediately shifted focus to the gridiron where he began “doing good work” as a backup halfback on the Gaels’ freshman football squad.8

Promoted to the varsity team in 1932, Wilson was seen prior to the season as a possible “sensation of coast football.”9 He made little impact, however, due to a shoulder injury serious enough to require the use of a brace.10 Wilson’s disappointing year caused lowered expectations heading into the 1933 campaign. “Wilson had a bad shoulder all last year, and there’s little hope that he’ll be any better this fall, for his shoulder muscles are peculiarly unprotected, and injuries come easily,” sportswriter Milt Phinney surmised.11 Proving the doubters wrong, Wilson became the star halfback on a nationally strong Gaels’ squad. The Dayton Herald noted that he possessed “an extremely ‘educated’ toe as well as the ability to splinter lines for great gains and do very well the other chores of a ball carrier.”12 Gaels coach (and future College Football Hall of Famer) Edward “Slip” Madigan reportedly called Wilson “the nearest thing to [legendary Notre Dame halfback George] Gipp I have ever seen.”13

On November 4, 1933, St. Mary’s traveled across the country to New York where they beat the previously undefeated Fordham Rams, 13–6. In the victory, Wilson — called “the best ball-lugger on the West Coast” — “sold himself to the East” with his second-quarter touchdown and overall strong performance.14 Sportswriter Alan Gould summed up Wilson’s performance: “If you saw St. Mary’s play Fordham you know how good he is.”15 Indeed, Wilson achieved third-team Associated Press All-American halfback honors for the year.16

It was during Wilson’s breakout 1933 season on the gridiron that he received the nickname by which he became forever known. In an ongoing attempt to boost the image of the football program at St. Mary’s, the school was prone to “bolstering [players’] reputations with nicknames that promised to titillate the fans and writers in distant cities.”17 As such, Wilson was given the colorful moniker, “Icehouse.” Exactly how he received it remains somewhat murky, however. One account has coach Madigan — “a large, cocky Irishman with a booming voice and a louder wardrobe” — labeling Wilson with the nickname due to “his coolness under competitive fire.”18 Another perhaps more amusing account has prominent “St. Mary’s publicity man” Bill Stevens simply pulling the name out of a hat.19

The national limelight Wilson received on the gridiron perhaps unfairly overshadowed his fine play over the years as the left fielder for the Gaels’ baseball team. St. Mary’s had a rich tradition on the diamond. In fact, it has been posited that the school fielded “perhaps some of the very best [teams] in the history of collegiate baseball” during the early twentieth century.20 Over the years, the program has produced dozens of major leaguers. In his sophomore season with the storied Gaels, Wilson hit .411.21 And despite a “bad shoulder injury” (presumably from his 1932 football season) that greatly hampered him during his junior year, the right-handed batter and thrower was nonetheless deemed one of the team’s “leading sluggers” and “considered good enough for a pro job” as he headed into his senior campaign in 1934.22 Indeed, at season’s end of his final year at St. Mary’s, Wilson earned a spot as the left fielder on the Oakland Tribune’s Intercollegiate League All-Star team.23 Also featured on the same all-star squad was none other than Rod Dedeaux, who later became a legendary amateur baseball coach at his alma mater of the University of Southern California and for the U.S. Olympic team.

In the spring of 1934, Wilson graduated from St. Mary’s. Despite having gained more fame through his exploits on the gridiron — and still having one more season of college football eligibility remaining to even further refine his skills — Wilson opted to pursue his “first love.”24 In early May, the “modest and unassuming” 21-year-old joined the San Mateo Blues baseball club, “which was consistently ranked among the top semipro teams in Northern California.”25 Scouting reports by the local media were extremely favorable. “Wilson can field as well as hit, and the speed that carried him to fame on the grid field stands him to good advantage in the outfield,” reported the San Mateo Times and Daily News Leader.26

Too talented for semipro ball, however, it took only about two weeks before Wilson signed with the American League’s Detroit Tigers after he “caught the eye” of player-manager Mickey Cochrane.27 “Surprising as it may seem, San Mateo fans, if they’ll stop and collect their wits a minute, will realize that it was inevitable,” sportswriter Roger L. Williams admitted of Wilson’s quick departure from the Blues. “Wilson has the makings of a major-league sensation. His only two appearances on the City Park field this year tabbed him as a lad who would not long remain in State League play. He was too good for it.”28

Although Cochrane was reportedly “impressed by his size and suggestion of power at the plate,” expectations were generally tempered following the 6-foot-1, 188-pounder’s rapid rise to the big leagues.29 “The Tigers are in the first division and the former Gael star faces a difficult assignment in attempting to replace any of the regular outfielders,” reported the Oakland Tribune.30 And the Detroit Free Press had this to say regarding the Tigers’ new prospect: “Wilson will remain with the Tigers for the present although it is quite possible that he will be farmed out to some minor-league club later on.”31

Described as having “husky, broad shoulders,” Wilson made his major-league debut at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis on May 31, 1934.32 With the bases empty and one out in the ninth inning of an 11–3 blowout by the Browns, he was called upon to pinch-hit for pitcher Luke Hamlin. Hitting an infield roller off hurler Ivy Andrews, Wilson reached on a two-base error after St. Louis shortstop Ollie Bejma overthrew the ball to first baseman Jack Burns into the grandstand.33 Wilson was stranded on base after the next two Tigers batters went out in order, however, ending the game — and ending his very brief big-league career.

Sent to Sioux City of the Class A Western League in mid-June for more seasoning, Wilson struggled. After hitting a dreadful .197 in 42 games with the Cowboys, he was demoted to Duluth of the Class D Northern League to finish the season.34 There, things went from bad to worse; Wilson hit an abysmal .170 in 31 games with the Dukes.

After his initially promising campaign on the diamond ended on a sour note, the former college football star seemed to toy with the idea of returning to the gridiron. In September, he reportedly began training with the Moraga Wolves of the Pacific Football League.35 This newly formed professional league — intended to be a West Coast counterpart to the Eastern-based National Football League — featured teams comprising former star college players grouped together based on the schools they attended.36 For unknown reasons, however, it does not appear that Wilson was featured on the regular season roster.

Returning to baseball in 1935 after his reported dalliance with football, Wilson began the year with the Sacramento Senators of the AA Pacific Coast League. He was released before the start of the regular season, however.37 Following this disappointment, Wilson — still only 22 years old — abruptly ended his career in Organized Baseball. It was later reported that an aggravation of Wilson’s old college football shoulder injury negatively affected his performance, but it is unclear whether this ailment also factored into his decision to leave the game.38

Quickly shifting his focus back to academics, Wilson began graduate studies near his hometown at the University of California. After receiving a Master’s degree in history, he headed about 150 miles north to begin teaching and coaching at Oroville (California) High School in 1936.39 A few years later, Wilson planted roots much closer to home in Berkeley. There, he spent the next 34 years in various teaching, coaching, and administrative capacities in the local public schools before finally retiring from Berkeley High School in 1973.40

Wilson also stayed active in many other pursuits along the way. Commissioned as a lieutenant during World War II, he trained at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1942 before being assigned to the Navy Pre-flight School at his old alma mater, St. Mary’s College.41 There, the former All-American halfback immediately joined the military school’s football team, which played — and often defeated — many major college squads.42 Wilson spent three wartime years in active duty, and later retired as a lieutenant commander in the US Navy Reserve.43

Again leveraging his gridiron experience, Wilson spent time as a Pacific-8 Conference football official, which provided him the opportunity to referee in two Rose Bowls.44 In 1965, he returned to the diamond in a sense, using his influence as co-chairman of a St. Mary’s alumni committee to successfully persuade the school to hire former big-leaguer Eddie Lake as coach in an effort to revitalize the baseball program.45 Wilson also maintained memberships and leadership positions in several Berkeley-area organizations, including the Lions Club, Breakfast Club, Trade Club, Elks Lodge, and Saint Mary Magdalen (Catholic) Church.46

Married twice, Wilson wed his first wife, Mildred, in 1937. Reportedly from a “prominent Santa Cruz [California] family,” she was employed at San Francisco’s famed Emporium department store at the time of their nuptials.47 Before Mildred’s untimely death due to a brain tumor in 1948 at age 34, the couple had three children: Glenn, Sondra, and Terry.48 In 1950, Wilson tied the knot with his second wife, Marie, who was a physical education instructor.49 This union resulted in four children: Jan, Richard, Robert, and Thomas.

On October 13, 1973, Wilson passed away in Berkeley, after a bout with prostate cancer.50 He was interred at St. Joseph Cemetery in nearby San Pablo. In the year of his death, Wilson was inducted into the St. Mary’s College Athletic Hall of Fame as a baseball player. Three years later, he was again inducted by the school — this time as a football player.51

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Chris Rainey and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author accessed Wilson’s file from the library of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York; Ancestry.com; Baseball-Reference.com; Chronicling America; GenealogyBank.com; NewspaperArchive.com; Newspapers.com; Paper of Record; Retrosheet.org; and Sports-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 “Utility Infielder on Junior Nine Knows Game,” Oakland Tribune, August 19, 1928: 2D.

2 “School Honor Roll Is Listed,” Oakland Tribune, May 13, 1929: 18; “Students Name Class Officers,” Oakland Tribune, September 6, 1929: 13; “Honor Society Changes Name,” Oakland Tribune, November 21, 1929: 11.

3 “21 Athletes Will Be Awarded Letters,” Oakland Tribune, May 26, 1929: 16A; “High School Athletics,” Oakland Tribune, September 28, 1930: 6D.

4 “Utility Infielder on Junior Nine Knows Game.”

5 “Boy Baseball Champs Feted,” Oakland Tribune, September 15, 1928: 3.

6 “George Wilson Six Hours Too Old for Legion,” Oakland Tribune, May 12, 1929: 2D.

7 Roger L. Williams, “Blues to Face St. Mary’s Tomorrow,” San Mateo (California) Times and Daily News Leader, March 24, 1934: 7.

8 Roger L. Williams, “Blues Hit by Loss of Star,” San Mateo (California) Times and Daily News Leader, May 22, 1934: 9; “High School Athletics.”

9 Milt Phinney, “Strong Veteran Squad Boosts St. Mary’s Gridiron Stock,” Oakland Tribune, August 17, 1932: 13.

10 Phil Ray, “Erdelatz Begs to Play Last Game,” Oakland Tribune, December 12, 1935: 30.

11 Milt Phinney, “Heaviest Gael Grid Team Faces Heaviest Schedule — and Looks Ready for It,” Oakland Tribune, July 27, 1933: 15.

12 “This ‘Icehouse’ Cools ’Em Off!” Dayton Herald, November 8, 1933: 20.

13 “St. Mary’s Eleven Works Out Here En Route to East,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 31, 1933: 21.

14 Alan Gould, “Tennessee and Tulane Stars Among Leaders,” St. Petersburg Times, November 21, 1933: 7; “Candidates for All-American Honors,” Evening Sun (Baltimore), November 25, 1933: 8.

15 Alan Gould, “Sport Slants,” Evening Journal — Every Evening (Wilmington, Delaware), November 25, 1933: 14.

16 Alan Gould, “Mid-West, Coast Gridders Dominate 1933 All-American Football Team,” Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press, December 2, 1933: 11.

17 Frank Graham, Jr., A Farewell to Heroes (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003): 106.

18.Avrum Stroll, “‘Icehouse’ Wilson Named Grid Coach for ‘Jackets,’” Oakland Tribune, August 27, 1941: 11.

19 “But Will-Yum Isn’t with a Circus,” Napa (California) Register, October 22, 1936: 9; “Know the ‘Icehouse?’ St. Mary’s Loses Him,” San Francisco Examiner, February 7, 1934: 23.

20 Robert Elias, Baseball and the American Dream: Race, Class, Gender, and the National Pastime (London and New York: Routledge, 2016): 156.

21 Tom Foudy, “Veteran Nine Takes Field at Moraga,” Oakland Tribune, January 28, 1934: 10.

22 Foudy, “Close Race in Baseball Loop Seen,” Oakland Tribune, February 22, 1934: 15.

23 Foudy, “All-Star Team Includes Five U.C. Bears,” Oakland Tribune, April 30, 1934: 15.

24 Foudy, “Veteran Nine Takes Field at Moraga.”

25 Williams, “Blues to Face St. Mary’s Tomorrow”; R.L.W., “George ‘Icehouse’ Wilson to Play for Blues Tomorrow Against Koffee Kids,” San Mateo (California) Times and Daily News Leader, May 5, 1934: 6; Jim Clifford, “The Blues Brought Cheers to San Mateo,” San Mateo (California) Daily Journal, https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/the-blues-brought-cheers-to-san-mateo/article_65588e98-64b2-11e9-b4e4-0bce6cacedbe.html, April 22, 2019, accessed August 15, 2019.

26 R.L.W., “George ‘Icehouse’ Wilson to Play for Blues Tomorrow Against Koffee Kids.”

27 “Wilson to Get Thorough Test with Detroit,” Oakland Tribune, May 26, 1934: 7.

28 Roger L. Williams, “Blues Hit by Loss of Star,” San Mateo (California) Times and Daily News Leader, May 22, 1934: 9.

29 “Tigers Pick Up Power as Goose’s Bat Honks,” The Sporting News, June 7, 1934: 3; “Tigers Sign Wilson,” Detroit Free Press, May 28, 1934: 17.

30 “Wilson to Get Thorough Test with Detroit.”

31 “Tigers Sign Wilson.”

32 Williams, “Blues Hit by Loss of Star.”

33 “Tigers Pick Up Power as Goose’s Bat Honks.”

34 “Northern League,” The Sporting News, August 16, 1934: 10.

35 “Moraga Pros Hard at Work,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 21, 1934: 23.

36 “Plans Announced for Pro Football League,” Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1934: 14.

37 “Senators to Play Japan Team,” Auburn (California) Journal Republican, March 14, 1935: 9; “Rookies Released,” Woodland (California) Daily Democrat, March 23, 1935: 6.

38 Stroll, “‘Icehouse’ Wilson Named Grid Coach for ‘Jackets.’”

39 “George Wilson to Coach at Oroville High,” Woodland (California) Daily Democrat, May 12, 1936: 6.

40 “George Wilson Fete Tonight,” Oakland Tribune, May 1, 1973: 44.

41 Art Geen, “Bay Region Athletes Given Assignments After Annapolis Graduation,” Oakland Tribune, July 18, 1942: 13.

42 Alan Ward, “Broncos, Preflight Rated Even Contest,” Oakland Tribune, November 21, 1942: 12.

43 Phil Norman and Bill Dunbar, “Prep Sport Notes,” Oakland Tribune, December 3, 1945: 9; “Funeral Notices,” Oakland Tribune, October 14, 1973: 29.

44 “‘Icehouse,’ Gael Great, to Retire,” Oakland Tribune, April 12, 1973: 45.

45 Emmons Byrne, “Lake Joins Gaels to Coach Baseball,” Oakland Tribune, February 7, 1965: 39.

46 “Funeral Notices.”

47 “Mildred Wilson, Former Resident Here, Dies Sunday,” Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel-News, November 8, 1948: 1; “Miss Mildred Beauregard Becomes Bride of George Wilson in Old Mission Gardens, San Luis Obispo,” Santa Cruz (California) News, July 3, 1937: 3.

48 County of Alameda (California) Certificate of Death for Mildred K. Wilson.

49 “Of Jerry’s Junket and Altar Biz,” Berkeley (California) Daily Gazette, June 19, 1950: 12.

50 County of Alameda (California) Certificate of Death for George Peacock Wilson.

51 “Hall of Fame Roster: Saint Mary’s College Athletic Hall of Fame Membership,” Saint Mary’s College Athletics, https://smcgaels.com/sports/2018/5/29/ot-hall-of-fame-membership-html.aspx, accessed August 18, 2019.

Full Name

George Peacock Wilson

Born

September 14, 1912 at Maricopa, CA (USA)

Died

October 13, 1973 at Moraga, CA (USA)

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