by Harold Friend
The Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) were an offensively challenged team when Casey Stengel took over in 1934. Casey hoped that Hack Wilson, who set the National League single season home run record when he hit 56 in 1930, along with a 191 RBIs, could provide Brooklyn with a solid power hitter.
Hack Wilson's Drastic Decline
Hack Wilson was traded to Brooklyn in 1932. After his record 1930 season, Wilson's .356 batting average fell almost 100 points to a pedestrian .261, and his home run total dropped from 56 to 13. The explanation was that Cubs' manager Joe McCarthy could control Wilson and his alcohol problem, but McCarthy left after the 1930 season to manage the Yankees.
Hack Wilson's Salary Dispute
Rogers Hornsby took over the Cubs and there were reports of frequent clashes between Wilson and his new manager. In August, disgusted with Wilson's lack of hitting and lifestyle, Hornsby suspended him for the remainder of the season. He was soon traded to the Cardinals, who offered him a contract calling for $7,500, which was a cut of $25,500 from what the Cubs had paid him. The salary dispute resulted in the Cardinals sending Wilson to Brooklyn.
Hack Wilson Was Pleased When His Salary Was Cut in Half
Wilson signed a one year contract for $16,000 with Brooklyn. Wilson's reaction was remarkable when viewed from the changes that have occurred since 1932. "The salary I am to receive is all that I've wanted, for from the first I said that I fully deserve a cut of half of what I received last year."
Imagine Magglio Ordonez or Alex Rodriguez expressing such sentiments after a sub-par season.
A Better Season
In 1932, Hack Wilson improved, but he would never come close to approaching his record-setting season. Wilson hit 23 home runs to lead the Dodgers, batted in 123 runs, which was fourth best in the league, tied with Mel Ott, and Wilson hit .297 as Brooklyn finished third, nine games behind the Cubs.
Another Decline and a Livelier Baseball
But Hack hit only nine home runs with 54 RBIs and a .267 batting average in 1933. However, Casey Stengel was optimistic. In January, 1934, the National League agreed to adopt the "faster" American League baseball. It was acknowledged that the ball the American League used was not as fast or lively as the ball both leagues used in 1930, when Wilson set his records, but it was livelier than the ball the National League had been using.
After 1930, the American League continued to use a baseball that would help sluggers such as Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, and Al Simmons, while the senior circuit thickened the ball's cover, loosened the winding, and adjusted the stitching to allow the pitcher to get a better grip.
Think that would go over big today?
Opening Day at Ebbets Field
On opening day at Ebbets Field, Wilson hit a home run to help Brooklyn defeat Boston, but he injured his left ankle and was taken out of the game. He pinch hit unsuccessfully the next day, striking out with the potential tying run on second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. When he returned from the injury, he was ineffective and Stengel was forced to bench him, but he still had his moments.
Brooklyn Releases Hack Wilson
In a game against the Cubs in late May, Wilson pinch hit a two-run home run in the ninth to tie the game Brooklyn won in twelve innings. It was only Hack's fourth home run. On August 8, Brooklyn gave Hack Wilson his unconditional release. A few days later , Brooklyn was playing the Phillies in Philadelphia, where it was announced that the Phillies had signed Hack Wilson. Less than one month later, the Phillies announced that they had released Wilson because he had failed to hit.
By JOHN DREBINGER.. (1932, January 24). HACK WILSON SOLD TO ROBINS BY CARDS.. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. S1. Retrieved July 7, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005). (Document ID: 105771882).
By JOHN DREBINGER.. (1932, February 2). HACK WILSON SIGNS; SALARY IS $16,500 :Accepts One-Year Contract.. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 35. Retrieved July 7, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005). (Document ID: 105775114).
BIG LEAGUES AGREE ON LIVELIER BALL :Sphere Used in the American Last Year Is Accepted in Toto by the National. VEXING PROBLEM SOLVED New Ball Is a Medium Between the So-Called Jackrabbit and Later Slower Type.. (1934, January 6). New York Times (1857-Current file),21. Retrieved July 7, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005). (Document ID: 95466456).Hack Wilson at Baseball Library