Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tales of T212 #24 : Jimmy Wiggs

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here. Please excuse the lo-res nature of the card pictures; they were scanned for my auctions many years ago.
The back of Jimmy Wiggs' 1911 Obak card (he was also in the 1909 set) describes him as a "giant in statute," and at 6' 4" and 200 lbs., he was much larger than the average ballplayer at the turn of the 20th century.
Wiggs was born in Norway in 1876, but he was not the first Norwegian to play major league ball in the U.S. That was John Anderson, who debuted with Brooklyn in 1894.
Wiggs began his pro career in 1902 with Helena, in the last season of the Class B Pacific Northwest League. His record at Helena in unrecorded, but it was good enough to gain the big right-hander a trial with the Cincinnati Reds at the start of the 1903 season. With no won-loss record and a 5.40 ERA, he was quickly returned to the minors, where the PNWL had expanded and moved up to Class A status as the Pacific National League. Wiggs returned to Helena, then moved on to San Francsico and Portland/Salt Lake City. He won 23 games that year, losing 18.
When the Pacific Coast League was formed in 1904, the PNL lost half its teams and returned to a Class B circuit. Wiggs remained on the staff for Salt Lake City, then went to New Orelans, where he finished the season with a 14-5 record.
That earned "Big Jim" another call-up to the major leagues, with Detroit. Through '05 and into the first half of 1906, Wiggs was 3-3 for the Tigers. When Brooklyn owner Charlie Ebbets bought Wiggs from Detroit, and offered him less money than he had been making, he left Organized Baseball to pitch for Altoona in the outlaw Tristate League. When the TSL joined the official minor leagues in 1907, Wiggs was removed from the blacklist and won 15 games.
He jumped (his other nickname was "Grasshopper") back to an independent league, the California State circuit, with Fresno for 1908. In 1909 he joined Oakland in the PCL. Wiggs had a couple of memorable outings for the Oaks against the San Francisco in 1909. He no-hit the Seals in May, then on June 8 went the distance in a 24-inning 1-0 loss. He won 19 games that season, and lost 24.
The 1910 season found Wiggs with Montreal, for whom he was 8-16. He was back on the Coast in 1911, again with Oakland. When he started the season at 3-5, he was sold to Seattle of the Northwest League, where he won 19, losing seven.
Wiggs went back to the independent California League with Tulare in 1912, and if he played pro ball after that, it is unrecorded.
In the off-seasons, Wiggs was an accountant for an insurance firm. He died in Xenia, Ohio in 1963 at the age of 86.

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