This article was written by Bill Nowlin
A nickname like Squanto is a pretty good clue that George Francis Wilson was portrayed as Native American. Newspaper stories remarked on Wilson’s dark complexion and Indian nickname, though it is possible that people just dubbed him Squanto the way they might call another player Nig (Nig Cuppy, for instance) or another such name. There is no reason to believe that he was actually Native American, and the Hall of Fame Library helped resolve the question when it located a 1988 letter to Cappy Gagnon from Ezra Smith of Winthrop, Maine, a former employee of Wilson’s who had known Wilson well. Smith volunteered that “a disgruntled first wife” destroyed his athletic scrapbooks, but added, “There is no evidence of him having any Indian blood. His Indian features got him the name of Squanto and as far as I know that was it. I never knew of him having any Indian friends or baseball buddies.”
Wilson was born in Old Town, Maine, on March 29, 1889, to Charles and Josephine Wilson. The couple and their young son were living with Charles’s father, a physician, during the time of the 1900 Census. Charles is listed as a farmer. George played baseball as a youngster with both Waterville High School and Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine. He starred as a catcher for the Bowdoin College Albions baseball team in Brunswick, Maine, from 1909 to 1911, and in June 1911, it was reported that he had been named captain of the Albions for 1912. [Christian Science Monitor, June 3, 1911] He decided to forgo the captaincy when the Detroit Tigers offered a position in professional baseball.
Wilson’s first stop in baseball was in the major leagues; he reported to Detroit on July 6, 1911, as the third catcher on the Tigers behind Oscar Stanage and Boss Schmidt. For a while in September, his contract was sold to Toronto but this may have been a paperwork formality. Wilson appeared in five games at the tail end of the season, debuting on October 2, 1911. He was 0-for-4 in his first game and was charged with a passed ball in a game that saw manager Hughie Jennings ejected in the first inning and pitcher George Mullin in the third. Mullin’s replacement, Tex Covington, was forced from the game when his pitching hand was struck by a batted ball. Wilson’s teammate Ty Cobb was hitless in the game as well, striking out twice. Cleveland won the game, 7-4. Jennings had signed up a lot of young players, and fielded a team primarily of recruits on October 6. Wilson collected two hits.
In 16 total at-bats, he managed three hits — all singles — and got on base two other times by drawing a base on balls. He scored two runs, but never drove in one. His fielding left a lot to be desired, three errors in 30 chances. Though Wilson had had to forgo the captaincy of the Bowdoin team, he returned to Brunswick to finish his studies and graduated in 1912. He was a switch-hitter who threw right-handed, and is listed as 5-feet-10 and 170 pounds.
In the summer of 1912, Wilson played briefly for both Providence and Toronto in the International League. While playing for Toronto, he suffered a serious injury in a collision with an opposing third baseman and was never able to throw properly again. Switching to first base, where lack of arm strength is much less of a liability, Wilson played for Lynn, Massachusetts, in the New England League for the next three years, each year for a differently-named Lynn nine. In what remained to him of the 1912 season after recovery (some 23 games), he hit .301 for the Lynn Leonardites in 83 at-bats, with one home run. The team became the Lynn Shoemakers in 1913, and Wilson had an excellent year, leading the league with a .365 average in a full 122-game season. He hit nine home runs and also led the league in base stealing.
This caught the eye of the Boston Red Sox, who gave him an opportunity, signing him for 1914. During the winter, Wilson taught high school mathematics at Reading High School, just outside Boston. He paid a visit to Red Sox physician A.A. Cliff and Red Sox president Joseph Lannin on January 31; his arm was reportedly deemed in good shape. The Boston Globe noted, however, that “his fielding average at first was rather poor, although he came second in assists and was a dashing, willing player who gave much promise.” [Boston Globe, February 1, 1914] A feature by James C. O’Leary followed less than a week later, informing readers that the Sox had drafted and signed Wilson.
Training in Hot Springs in March, he worked out both at second base and at first. The Sox were only one year removed from the 1912 world championship and looked to have a solid infield in Larry Gardner at third base, Steve Yerkes at second, Hack Engle at first, with Everett Scott breaking in at shortstop. The Globe’s Tim Murnane predicted, “Janvrin will make a fine substitute infielder, and I believe Wilson will prove a valuable man to hold as an understudy to Clyde Engle.” [Boston Globe, April 12, 1914]
Wilson appeared in his first game for the Red Sox on April 21, 1914. It was an interesting early-season game. The Red Sox entered the day with a record of 2-4, 3½ games behind the first-place White Sox. In the seven games they had played, Boston had scored a total of six runs — they’d been shut out three times, won games by the scores of 1-0 and 2-1, and had played a 1-1 tie game against Philadelphia the day before.
They played to a tie again on April 22. When the Red Sox scored four times in the bottom of the fourth, it was their biggest inning of the year. Boston held a 5-1 lead only briefly; the Athletics tied it in the top of the fifth — and then took a 9-5 lead thanks to four more runs in the top of the seventh. Time was running short, because both teams had trains to catch. The umpire was former Boston pitcher Bill Dinneen. In the bottom of the eighth, Hal Janvrin grounded out, short to first. Everett Scott drew a walk. Hick Cady flied to right, but Eddie Murphy muffed the ball and the Red Sox had runners on first and second with just one out. Squanto Wilson was put in as a pinch-runner for catcher Cady at first. Pinch-hitter Olaf Henriksen struck out. Two down. Harry Hooper doubled, driving in Scott and sending Wilson to third. Engle walked and the bases were loaded. On a 3-2 count, with Tris Speaker up, the outfielders were playing deep, and the runners were off with the pitch. Speaker purposely tapped a ball into short left field, while the runners tore around the bases and all three scored, retying the game, 9-9. Left-fielder Tom Daley fell coming in to make the play, just barely stopped the ball, and was unable to throw home before all three runners scored. After Lewis flied out, the game was called by mutual agreement. Daley was not assigned an error; Speaker was awarded a double. Curiously, and correctly, all the box scores of the day awarded Wilson a run scored, but none of today’s reference works have the run recorded.
On May 14, Wilson was sold to Memphis of the Southern League. Murnane said, “Everything possible was done for Wilson, but he was still having trouble with his throwing arm and the Red Sox management could not afford to waste any more time in trying to develop a first baseman.” He was sold for cash to the Chickasaws, but under an agreement that the Sox could purchase him back at the end of the year. It was hoped that the warmer weather in the Southern League would help his arm. [Boston Globe, May 14, 1914] If he is the S. Wilson who played outfield for Memphis (an unlikely assignment for someone with difficulty throwing), he seems to have started off nicely, but ended up hitting .252 in 57 games. On July 12, Wilson was returned to Boston. [Atlanta Constitution, July 13, 1914] He headed north but not to play in Boston; SABR’s minor-league records show Squanto Wilson playing in 59 games for the Lynn Fighters and hitting .333. Wilson never appeared in another major-league game.
Wilson returned to Maine and played with a number of semipro and amateur teams there through the 1920s. His photograph can be found as one of the 1922 Augusta Millionaires in Will Anderson’s book Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine? In 1923, he signed as the player-manager with the Hanover (Pennsylvania) Raiders in the Class D Blue Ridge League. By the following year, he was proprietor of Geo. F. Wilson’s Store on Main Street in Winthrop, Maine, selling men’s and women’s clothing. By 1925, the store was built into a small five-store chain of retail stores known as Wilson’s Dollar Stores.
Wilson served as a teacher and principal at Winthrop High School for 10 years; while he was principal in 1920, he and his wife, Edith, rented a house in Winthrop. By 1930, he is listed as a dry-goods merchant living in Richmond. Another wife, Daisy, was listed, and the couple had a four-year-old daughter, Ann. In later years, he was vice president of the Lewiston, Greene, and Monmouth Telephone Co. He died in Winthrop on March 26, 1967.
Wilson’s major-league average was the .188 he hit with the Tigers. His only appearance for the Red Sox was as a pinch-runner in this one game, a game neither team won.
Much of the information on Wilson was obtained from Will Anderson’s book Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine? (Portland, Maine: Will Anderson, Publisher, 1992). In addition to the sources cited in the text, the author used the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.