Friday, July 20, 2012

Artie Wilson was 'Wally Pipp' to Willie Mays

Among the PCL regional card sets in which
Wilson appears in this 1952 Mother's Cookies.

Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

 In our last presentation, we covered Willie Mays' preferment from the N.Y. Giants' Class AAA farm club in the American Association to the major leagues on May 24, 1951.

To make room for Mays on the roster, the Giants optioned infielder and left-handed pinch-hitter Artie Wilson to Ottawa of the International League. Wilson never again played in the major leagues. After two games with the O-Giants, he was sent to Minneapolis as a sop to Millers fans who were upset about the loss of their slugging star, Mays.

Wilson’s stay in Minneapolis was also brief. On June 20, at the behest of Oakland Oaks manager Mel Ott and owner Brick Laws, the Giants optioned Wilson to the Pacific Coast League, where it was hoped his presence would improve the Oaks’ gate, which at the time was lagging some 125,000 behind the previous year’s pace. Wilson had starred for the Oaks in 1949 and 1950, after five years playing in the Negro Leagues. He was the key man in the infield for the team that took the PCL pennant twice in three seasons, and led the Coast League in batting (.350) in 1949. He hit .311 with Oakland in 1950; after the season he was traded to the Giants.

Saying goodbye to Minneapolis with a bang, in his last game as a Miller, Wilson had a perfect night in his finale. Playing left field in the first game of a doubleheader, Wilson hit an inside-the-park home run, a triple and two singles. He also drew a walk and drove in four runs. Immediately after the game he was rushed to the airport to catch an airplane for the coast.

Playing Winter League ball in the Puerto Rican
League in 1949-50, Wilson hit .367 to lead the
Mayaguez Indians to the title. This is his

1950-51 Toleteros card.
Oakland fans arranged for the presentation of floral pieces at home plate when Wilson suited up for his first game with the Oaks on June 22. His presence was the impetus for the team’s biggest home crowd of the season, more than 8,500.

He didn’t disappoint the local fans in his homecoming, hitting two singles and a ninth inning sacrifice fly that brought home a run that proved to be margin of victory in a 5-4 Oakland win over San Francisco. As attendance swelled to 23,000 for the first three games upon Wilson’s return, Oakland won four out of six games.

Wilson was one of the Oaks’ most popular players in that era. Oakland baseball writer Ed Schoenfeld described him as the “skinny little Negro jumping-jack shortstop,” and predicted he would be the spark needed for the Oaks to capture the 1951 pennant. They finished fifth in the Coast League, 19-1/2 games behind. Wilson had hit .255 for the year. 

Wilson spent the next six years in the Pacific Coast League, batting .315 between 1952-57 with Seattle, Portland and Sacramento. After a five-year layoff, Wilson returned to the PCL briefly in 1962 at the age of 41, hitting just .164 in 25 games with Portland. He was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame in 2003, and died in 2010, just after his 90th birthday.

In his 19 games with the Giants in 1951, Wilson had only four hits in 22 at-bats--all singles--a .182 average. For his time with the Giants, Wilson was awarded a 1/8th share from the team’s World Series pool: $618.88.

It's not surprising that Wilson didn't have any mainstream baseball card appearances in his brief major league career, but he can be found on a number of regional cards issued Out West during his PCL days, and on 1949-50, 1950-51 Toleteros Puerto Rican League cards.

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