Maryland Blogger Alliance

Alliance FAQs

Latest MBA Posts

April 28, 2005

Earl Wilson, R.I.P.

I remember Earl Wilson, the pitcher on the Red Sox and Tigers in the 1960s, who died a few days ago, as a great hitting pitcher more than as a great pitcher. It turns out he was also the first black player signed by the Red Sox, though not the first to make it to the majors.

A nice summary is here (scroll down), and this confirms my memories:

Wilson’s hitting exploits remain almost legendary. Originally a power-hitting catcher, Wilson was moved to the mound because of his arm strength. During his major league career, he hit 35 home runs, the fourth highest total among pitchers. Only Wes Ferrell, Bob Lemon and Red Ruffing—all Hall of Famers—hit more home runs as moundsmen. Yet, Wilson’s 35 homers came in only 740 at-bats, compared to the nearly 1,200 at-bats that Ferrell accrued in reaching his career total of 38 home runs. Wilson’s biggest power showing occurred on August 16, 1965, when he hit two home runs in one game. Capable of making consistent contact, Wilson also hit for a respectable average, eclipsing the .200 mark five times during his career.
But the greatest Earl Wilson story, which I was able to track down because I remembered one of the other players involved, involved a strange play on a third strike. Here is an account from Retrosheet:
From Dave Smith:
How about a strikeout with the batter being retired 767? In the game of April 25, 1970, Tiger pitcher Earl Wilson struck out to end the seventh inning in the Twin Cities. Or so it appeared to everyone except Detroit third base coach Grover Resinger. He saw that Twins catcher Paul Ratliff trapped the pitch in the dirt, did not tag Wilson and rolled the ball to the mound. Resinger told Wilson to start running as most of the Twins entered the dugout. Earl got to first easily and headed for second. Since no one interfered with him, he started for third. By this time, Brant Alyea, who was trotting in from left field, heard Resinger shouting at Wilson. Alyea hustled to the mound but had trouble picking up the ball. Wilson headed for home where Twins Leo Cardenas and Ratliff had returned. Alyea finally picked up the ball and threw to Cardenas. Wilson turned back to third but was tagged out by Alyea for a K767. Rookie catcher Ratliff was charged with an error. After the game, Detroit catcher Bill Freehan said "If Alyea had been hustling, Earl might have made it [home]. Tell him [Alyea] to start coming in and off the field a little quicker." The aftermath of the story is that Wilson pulled a hamstring muscle running the bases and had to leave the game.
Exactly the kind of baseball play that leaves an impression, isn't it?

UPDATE (5/2): Crank points out in the comments that Wes Ferrell is not in the Hall of Fame. Here is the list of pitchers in the Hall.