2018-05-31 / Sports

BASEBALL’S BEST

Wilson was the last .400+ hitter
By LAMAR GARRARD
baseball historian

“Artie Wilson was one of the guys who watched out for me when I played for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948. In turn, I watched Artie. That year he hit .402! That was a lesson in hitting that I always remembered.” – Willie Mays, baseball Hall of Fame member

In his new book, Singles and Smiles, How Artie Wilson Broke Baseball’s Color Barrier, my friend Gaylon H. White has compiled a heart warming and captivating biography on a teriffic ballplayer, Artie Wilson.

History shows that major league baseball integrated with the Dodgers signing Jackie Robinson and his debut into the game in 1947. Branch Rickey had also considered bringing up negro league star Wilson.

Arthur Lee Wilson, known as Artie, was born in Springville, Alabama, in 1920. He played professionally in six different leagues in the states and was a standout shortstop and second baseman in the Negro League and the Pacific Coast League before he got a short call up to the bigs with the N.Y. Giants in 1951.

Wilson was a singles hitter and was a master at getting on base and hitting for average.

His defensive skills at shortstop drew him the label as the best shortstop in the game.

In his first four years with the Black Barons he batted .346, .374, .373 and in 1948, .406!

I n 1950, while playing Minneapolis in the American Association, he batted .312 in 196 games.

Artie got his big chance in 1951 when Leo Durocher, the Giants manager, gave him a 19-game trial. He didn’t start many games and was used as a pinch hitter. The pressure was on him and his bat went to sleep. He hit only .182 in his short stay with New York and it seems he really did not get a fair chance to stay in the majors.

Happy to go back down to the minors, Artie performed well for Oakland, Seattle, and Portland and hit well over .300 five times in his next few seasons.

Factors were beyond Artie’s control as the young phenom Willie Mays was killing the league at Minneapolis with his .477 batting average in just 35 games. Artie was sent down and the “Say Hey Kid” Mays was brought up to the big show. You will recall that this ’51 Giants team was talent-laden and went on to win the National League pennant over the Dodgers. Unfortunately, there just was not a roster spot for the well deserving Wilson.

Wilson is not alone in being an African-American player who got a quick or delayed trip to the majors. Hall of Fame players Monte Irvin and Larry Doby are two that got called up when they were in their late 20s. Roy Campanella, Don Newcome, Satchel Paige, Minnie Minoso, and several other players of the era should have been called up to the majors sooner. African-American players led the National League especially in many offensive categories as Banks, Mays, Aaron, and others arrived on the scene.

Ted Williams hit .406 for Boston in 1941 while in 1948 Artie Wilson became the last player in organized baseball to hit .400 when he hit .402. Will any major leaguer ever hit .400 again?

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