Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Earl Wilson: The Last Bad-Ass Hitting Pitcher In The American League

Earl Wilson: 1934-2005

Earl Wilson is gone, and I suppose that's what is bound to happen to members of a baseball championship team that is pushing 40 years ago in history.

Wilson, old #16, was an integral member of the 1968 Tigers World Series champs, and one of the first black men to don the Boston Red Sox uniform. Beantown was rather slow in integrating back in the 60's. Anyhow, Wilson was a consistent, serviceable right handed starter, but he could also kill you with his bat. Earl wasn't one of those "automatic out" pitchers when it came to hitting. Wilson slugged 35 homers in his career, behind only Wes Ferrell for pitchers. In '68 Wilson had seven dingers in just 88 at-bats. Those are almost Ruthian-like numbers.

I remember my father telling me that he swears Wilson would occasionally bat sixth or seventh in the Tigers lineup in 1968. I thought it might be true, since the regular shortstop was Ray Oyler, who hit something like .130, and the third baseman was Don Wert, who barely bobbed over .200. But then I hit Jim Northrup with that assertion, and the Grey Fox shook his head no.

"Nope, I don't remember that," Northrup, a '68 Tiger outfielder, told me several years ago.

That's okay -- sometimes old ballplayers' memories aren't so good. Regardless, there are those who said Wilson may not have succumbed to a designated hitter on the days he took the mound, had the rule been in place, and may even have been a spot-DH on his off days. Talk about never seeing his kind again!

Wilson made a name for himself in the business world after baseball -- one of the few of his time who pulled that transition off successfully.

But I will remember him as the pitcher who could support himself, and sometimes did so out of necessity.

Earl was 70. Rest in peace.

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