Monday, July 26, 2010

Artie Wilson: Oakland Baseball Legend

We were recently at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, which is a wonderful and moving exhibit of some of baseball's best and bravest ballplayers. It's also a great slice of American history. By now, most fans know about Buck O'Neil, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and hundreds of other great players from the Negro Leagues. But one player that caught our eye in the exhibit was Artie Wilson.

He's not prominently featured, but Wilson is photographed in 1946 with about a dozen other ballplayers who joined Satchel Paige's barnstorming teams — traveling squads who played informal games against local nines whenever they rolled into town.

We remembered Wilson because he's a part of West Coast baseball history and, of course, he's a big part of Oakland baseball history. When he joined the Oakland Oaks in 1949, Wilson broke the Pacific Coast League color line, becoming the league's first full-time African-American player. (If you don’t count Jimmy Claxton’s very brief stint when he posed as a Native American with the Oakland Oaks 30 years earlier.)

Wilson, whose Oaks roommate was Billy Martin, tore up the PCL in his first season. He won the league batting title, batting .348 and also led the league with 47 stolen bases. The next season, he batted .312 while knocking 264 hits and scoring 168 runs in 196 games. Wilson split 1951 between Oakland and the New York Giants and he moved onto Seattle for the '52 season.

Wilson paved the way for other African-American ballplayers to find playing jobs in the PCL in the league's waning days. Other Negro League stars followed Wilson's path, such as Piper Davis and Ray Dandridge, two African-American stars who played for the Oakland Oaks in 1953.

Artie Wilson was a great baseball man and a legendary Oakland ballplayer. It was great to see him get some overdue recognition at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

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