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It’s time for Major League Baseball to help right a wrong


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Goodman: It’s time for Major League Baseball to help right a wrong

Updated: May. 15, 2024, 8:12 a.m.|Published: May. 15, 2024, 7:55 a.m.

6–7 minutes

This is an opinion column.

_____________________

Major League Baseball has a perfect opportunity to help right a wrong.

Artie Wilson, one of the greatest baseball players in the history of Alabama, isn’t in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and it feels like a major oversight. Why is it so important that Major League Baseball is coming to Birmingham, Alabama, to honor the Negro Leagues? One of the reasons is because forgotten players like Wilson deserve to be properly recognized for contributions to the history of the game.

Wilson’s story has been lost to time and it’s been an ongoing crusade of mine to help him reach Cooperstown. There isn’t a single player in the National Baseball Hall of Fame who’s primary team is the Birmingham Black Barons. Wilson should be the one.

Most baseball fans have never heard of Artie Wilson and that’s a shame. During the 1940s, he was the best shortstop in the Negro Leagues. Wilson played for the Birmingham Black Barons from 1942 to 1948. Wilson’s career batting average with the Barons of .374 soars above the game. Ty Cobb, credited with the highest career average in baseball history, hit .366.

Wilson’s career batting average in the Big Leagues is .367. After his prime years with the Black Barons, Wilson played sparingly during part of one season for the New York Giants, but he never truly received an opportunity to break through in MLB.

But it’s not Artie’s fault that America was a segregated country during his playing days. Put Artie in the Hall.

Major League Baseball is descending upon Birmingham this summer. The St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants are playing at Rickwood Field on June 20. For baseball, it’s going to be the signature moment of the season. Outside of Talladega, it’s arguably the biggest professional sporting event in the state of Alabama since the 1948 Negro League World Series. This is the perfect time for Major League Baseball to amplify Artie’s story and give him proper recognition all these years later.

We haven’t talked enough about Birmingham’s Industrial Leagues leading up to MLB at Rickwood: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues. A hundred years ago, factories and mills in Birmingham had semi-pro baseball teams. There were dozens around town and they all served as a feeder system for the Negro Leagues. Willie Mays, Sr., played in the Industrial Leagues with Piper Davis, the future manager of the Birmingham Black Barons. It was Davis who gave 17-year-old Willie Mays, Jr., his big break in 1948.

But Mays wasn’t the star of that famed Black Barons team that played in the final Negro League World Series. The superstar back then was Wilson.

Let the record show that Ted Williams was not the last Major League Baseball player to hit over .400 in a season. Wilson hit .433 in 1948 for the Birmingham Black Barons.

And yet he’s not in Cooperstown.

It’s a high crime of American sporting history that Arthur Lee Wilson of Springville, Alabama, isn’t in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Stunningly, Wilson isn’t even in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. It just goes to show how the Negro Leageus have been lost to time and how the selective preservation of American history is obscured by the complicated legacy of racial discrimination.

An opposite-field hitter, Wilson hit left and threw right. He had a career batting average of .438 in the Industrial Leagues before signing with the Black Barons in 1943. He’s now recognized as the Negro Leagues rookie of the year for that season. Wilson was a seven-time All-Star in Negro Leagues, and back then being selected as an All-Star was the highest honor in the game.

Hall of Famer Monte Irvin called Wilson a superstar before the term was invented.

Most amazingly, Wilson had a Hall of Fame-worthy career despite losing part of his thumb in a factory accident when he was 19 years old. He still hit .398 in the Industrial League that season.

Wilson played for ACIPCO, or American Cast Iron and Pipe Company. ACIPCO was the New York Yankees of the Industrial League.

Wilson hit .559 in his final season for ACIPCO.

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. After the 1948 season, it seemed like Wilson was headed for Major League Baseball. The Cleveland Indians wanted Wilson badly but a contract dispute with the Yankees kept Wilson in the minor leagues. After winning the batting title in the Pacific Coast League, Wilson played with the New York Giants for part of the 1951 season. He was then 30 years old, and was never given a real chance. He was optioned back to the minors when his former Black Barons teammate, Willie Mays, was called up.

There was an unspoken quota at the time in Major League Baseball. The Giants could only have four black players and Wilson made five.

Wilson’s greatest years were in Birmingham, and it is as a Birmingham Black Baron he should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

SOUND OFF

Got a question for Joe? Want to get something off your chest? Send Joe an email about what’s on your mind for the mailbag. Let your voice be heard. Ask him anything.

Joseph Goodman is the lead sports columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of the most controversial sports book ever written, “We Want Bama: A Season of Hope and the Making of Nick Saban’s Ultimate Team.”

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