Lewis Robert "Hack" Wilson was born on April 26, 1900 in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. He began playing professional baseball 1921 for the Martinsburg club in the Blue Ridge League. After two impressive offensive seasons, Wilson was promoted to the Portsmouth club in the Virginia League, where he switched positions from catcher to outfield. During the 1923 season, Wilson won the Virginia League's Triple Crown, and on September 6 of that year, Hack was purchased by the New York Giants and played in the MLB team's final three games.
Hack Wilson played two unspectacular seasons in New York and supposedly earned a spot in John McGraw's doghouse. And after the 1925 season, Wilson's option was not picked up by the Giants and he was subsequently picked up by the Chicago Cubs. Years later, McGraw would swear until his death that a clerical error had resulted in the Giants not retaining Wilson.
The Cubs drafted Wilson (via the 1925 Rule V Draft) from Toledo of the American Association, where he ended up after the New York debacle. It was in the Windy City that Hack Wilson hit his stride as a baseballer. In 1926, Wilson hit .321, drove in 109, and won his first home run title with 21. In 1929, Wilson won his first RBI crown (159) as he led the Cubbies to the World Series. Wilson went on to hit 8 for 17 (.471) in the Series, but is better remembered for his sloppy defensive play. The Philadelphia Athletics went on to win that Series 4-1. But Hack came back strong in 1930, putting up one of the most phenominal offensive seasons ever seen:
|At Bats||Runs||Hits||2B||3B||HR||RBI||AVG||Slg Pct||OBP||OPS|
The 56 home runs set a National League record that would stand for 68 years when, in 1998 it was surpassed by both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The .723 slugging percentage is the 22nd best single-season mark in MLB history (and the 11th best by someone not named Ruth or Bonds). Most impressive, however, was the 191 RBI which is a Major League Baseball record that still stands to this day.
After the 1932 season, due partially to a slip in production and partially to a personality clash with new manager Rogers Hornsby, Wilson (along with pitcher Bud Teachout) was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for 37-year-old pitcher Burleigh Grimes. Less than a month later, before he had even donned a St. Louis uniform, the Cards shipped Wilson to the Brooklyn Dodgers for minor-leaguer Bob Parham and $45,000. Although he posted solid numbers for Brooklyn in 1932 (.297, 23, 123), Wilson would never again display the kind of production that made him one of the most-feared hitters in the game.
Despite his heavy drinking (which is widely believed to be the cause of his declining production), Wilson managed to bounce around the game until the end of the 1934 season, and by 1935, only five years after one of the best offensive seasons ever seen (even to this day), Hack Wilson was out of the Major Leagues. After a couple of unsuccessful comeback attempts in semi-professional leagues, Wilson retired from the game completely and opened a bar in Chicago. On November 23, 1948, Hack Wilson died at age 48 in Baltimore, Maryland.
A former manager, concerned with Wilson's heavy drinking tried to get him off the juice: "When I put a worm in a glass of
water, nothing happens to it. But when I put that same worm in a glass of whiskey, it dies. What does that tell you?"
Hack's response: "That I'll never get worms from drinking whiskey!"
- Led the NL in HR in 1926 (21), 1928 (31), and 1930 (56).
- Led the NL in RBI in 1929 (159), and 1930 (191).
- Holds MLB single-season RBI record (191 in 1930).
- Sold by Portsmouth (Virginia) to New York Giants (September 6, 1923).
- Traded by New York Giants with a player to be named later to Toledo (American Association) in exchange for Earl Webb (August 8, 1925); Toledo (American Association) received Pip Koehler (February 15, 1926).
- Selected by Chicago Cubs from Toledo (American Association) in the Rule 5 major league draft (October 9, 1925).
- Traded by Chicago Cubs with Bud Teachout to St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Burleigh Grimes (December, 1931).
- Traded by St. Louis Cardinals to Brooklyn Dodgers in exchange for Bob Parham and $45000 (January 23, 1932).
- Released by Brooklyn Dodgers (August 8, 1934).
- Signed by Philadelphia Phillies (August 10, 1934).
- Released by Philadelphia Phillies (September 5, 1934).