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Hack Wilson

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New York Giants 1923-25
Chicago Cubs 1926-31
Brooklyn Dodgers 1932-34
Philadelphia Phillies 1934

"A Million Dollar Slugger from the Five and Ten Cent Store."

Hack Wilson is famous for two things: driving in a record 191 runs in 1930 & consuming large amounts of alcohol. The barrel-chested slugger came out of nowhere to dominate the National League in the late 20s & early 30s, and then quickly slipped back into obscurity before dying at the age of 48. Hack Wilson life was full of highs, lows, & legendary feats - here is his story:

Lewis Robert Wilson was born on April 26, 1900 in Ellwood, PA. Like many during that era, he quit school during the sixth grade to join the workforce. He started as a printer's apprentice, then tried his luck as an ironworker in a locomotive factory, then in the shipyard, as well as other odd jobs. In 1921, he finally found his niche as a baseball player joining Martinsburg of the Blue Ridge League as a catcher. After smacking out 30 home runs in only 84 games in 1922, Wilson earned a promotion to Portsmouth of the Virginia League & was switched to outfield.

In 1923 Wilson broke into the big leagues appearing in 3 games with the New York Giants after winning the triple crown in the Virginia League. During his time in New York he gained his famous nickname, the origins of which are debated. The most popular belief behind the moniker is that Wilson was named after wrestler George Hackenschmidt, other theories are suggest it is Cub's strongman OF Hack Miller that inspired the name, and that it may have been a commentary on Wilson often erratic play in the field. Whatever the case, Hack, is one of the most memorable nicknames in the games' history.

In 1924, his first full season in the bigs, Wilson hit .295 with 10 HR and 57 RBI in 107 games. Wilson did not follow up his solid rookie season strongly, he hit only .239 and appeared in a mere 62 games. The lack of production along with Wilson's legendary drinking & brawling off the field, put him in manager John McGraw's dog house, and eventually got him demoted to the minors. Following the '25 season, the Giants did not renew their option on Wilson and he was picked up by the Chicago Cubs. McGraw insisted to his death that a clerical error caused Wilson's departure.

In Chicago Wilson began to blossom. He instantly became a fan favorite because of his unusual physique. Wilson stood only 5'6", but weighed 190 lbs (some say he may have weighed much more). He had an 18" neck, a torso resembling a barrel, short but thick arms, stumpy legs, & tiny, size 6 feet. It was Wilson's bat, however, that made him a star. In 1926 he hit .321 with 109 RBI, and won the first of three straight home run titles with 21. In 1929 Wilson led the Cubs to the World Series, but was tabbed as the goat losing two fly balls in one inning in Game 4, helping the Philadelphia Athletics rally from a 8-0 deficit to win the game & eventually the series.

In 1930 Hack Wilson came back with a vengeance, slugging his way to one of the finest seasons in baseball history. He .356 with a then NL record 56 HR (not broken until '98 by McGwire & Sosa) and a still record 191 RBI (the total was 190 until '99 when historians discovered an RBI that should have been credited to Wilson was erroneously credited to another Cubs player). After the 1930 season the Cubs rewarded Wilson with a record $40,000 contract.

1931 began Hack Wilson's descent from baseball stardom. His production dropped off the charts (.261 13 HR 61 RBI) and his personality clashed with new manager Rogers Hornsby. Following the season the Cubs dealt Wilson to the St. Louis Cardinals who shipped him to the Brooklyn Dodgers before he'd even put on the Cardinal uniform. In 1932 Wilson bounced back & put up a solid season (.297 23 HR 123 RBI) for Brooklyn, but that kind of production would not last. After an mediocre '33 season (.267 9 HR 54 RBI) & a miserable '34 campaign (.262 6 HR 30 RBI) which included a trade to the Philadephia Phillies, Hack Wilson's career in the major leagues was over only four years after posting one of the greatest seasons ever. After attempting unsuccessful comebacks with minor league in teams in Albany, NY (1935) and Portland, OR (1936), Wilson finally retired from baseball & opened a bar in Chicago.

Wilson's heavy drinking is believed to be the main cause of his sudden demise. Legend has it that former Cubs manager Joe McCarthy approached Wilson one day & said, "If I drop a worm in a glass of water, it swims around. If I drop it in a glass of whiskey, the worm dies. What does that prove?" Wilson responded, "If you drink whiskey, you'll never get worms."

Wilson eventually moved to Baltimore, MD where he worked in a defense plant during World War II. He also spent time as a pool manager and grounds keeper for the city park board. After his health began to fail him, Wilson used himself as an example of the evils of alcohol on radio programs. Hack Wilson died on November 23, 1948. He was 48 years old.

Although Wilson only played a 140 or more games 5 times in his 12 year career, and his career totals of 244 home runs, 1063 RBI, & 1461 hits are modest by Hall of Fame standards, Hack Wilson did have his staunch supporters. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979 by the Veteran's Committee. Wilson's election was based mostly upon his magical 1930 season & his .307 career batting average. No matter what your opinion of him may be, the fact remains that Lewis Robert "Hack" Wilson is one of baseball's most colorful and controversial characters. He is a true baseball legend.

-David Zingler, October 2001

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