Year Inducted: 1979 (Veterans Committee)
Some players have short careers because they were injured on the field. Chick Hafey and Frank Chance, for example, had shortened careers due to being hit in the head by pitches. Others, like Ross Youngs, have shortened careers due to tragic diseases. And yet others, like Tommy McCarthy and Hack Wilson, did it to themselves through alcoholism.
Wilson, much more so than McCarthy, was definitely on track to be a Hall of Famer. In his brief 12 year career, Wilson hit .307/.395/.545 for a wRC+ of 143. He was a dominant offensive force for 5 years for the Cubs, with a wRC+ over 150 each season from 1926-1930, culminating in a 171 wRC+ in 1930. In that season, Wilson hit a then-NL record of 56 home runs along with a still-record 191 RBI. He was the 4th player to hit over 200 home runs in his career, and was among the top five offensive players of his peak.
On the flip side, Wilson was a butcher in the outfield. Fangraphs has him rated as -33 fielding runs, and all evidence from the era seems to back the low number. In one game of the 1929 World Series, Wilson dropped two fly balls in the sun. One was botched so badly that it led to an inside the park home run that helped the A’s come back from an 8-0 deficit to win 10-8. Wilson would lament later in his life that he was more remembered for the dropped fly balls rather than the season he had in 1930.
That 1930 season was both a blessing and a curse for Wilson. He was already known as being one of the more combative players in the game for picking fights with hecklers, opposing players and even members of the media. After having a season for the ages, his drinking increased a great deal, and when he went to Spring Training the next season he was very overweight. The owner of the Cubs was very vocally opposed to drinking, and Wilson’s behavior eventually became too much for him to bear; after a disappointing 1931 season (by Wilson’s standards at least) he was traded to the Cardinals and then to the Dodgers in the off-season While his 1932 season was very good, he regressed in 1933 and by the mid-season of 1934, he found himself released. The Phillies quickly picked him up, but after 20 at-bats of no production, he was out of the league.
Due to his combative reputation and alcoholism Wilson found it difficult to not only find a job in Major League Baseball, but also find steady work after baseball. Failed businesses and a bad divorce seemed to haunt Wilson. He passed away after being found unconscious in his home and suffering from complications due to pneumonia in 1948 at the too young age of 48. A little bit before he passed away, Wilson gave an interview where he said this:
Talent isn’t enough. You need common sense and good advice. If anyone tries to tell you different, tell them the story of Hack Wilson. … Kids in and out of baseball who think because they have talent they have the world by the tail. It isn’t so. Kids, don’t be too big to accept advice. Don’t let what happened to me happen to you.
Let that quote be a warning to all the young people who think they are invincible and won’t lose due to excess drinking. It’s not worth it.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 7/11/16 This former third baseman, following the end of his career, became a legendary broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.