Hack Wilson

Position: Outfielder
Teams: New York Giants, 1923-1925; Chicago Cubs, 1926-1931; Brooklyn Dodgers, 1932-1934; Philadelphia Phillies, 1934

There has never been anyone in baseball who looked quite like Hack Wilson. Only 5'6" tall, but weighing 200 pounds, Wilson had a huge barrel chest supported by tree-trunk-sized legs, resting on two tiny feet. He wore an 18-inch collar and size six shoes.

After his outburst in 1930, Wilson sagged to just 13 homers and 61 RBI in 1931.
After his outburst in 1930, Wilson sagged to just 13 homers and 61 RBI in 1931.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania steel country, Lewis Robert Wilson (1900-1948) never made it past the sixth grade and worked throughout his childhood. He developed his enormous upper-body strength by swinging heavy hammers in the Baldwin, Pennsylvania, locomotive works. There is debate about whether the nickname “Hack” came from former Chicago Cubs outfielder Hack Miller or from wrestler George Hackenschmidt.

Hack began his pro career in 1921 playing with Martinsville in the Blue Ridge League, and two years later he moved up to the Virginia League. Originally a catcher, he ended up an outfielder when he broke a leg sliding. Although he batted .356, .366, and .388 in his three seasons in the minors, leading his league in homers, he was deemed too short by several clubs.

John McGraw stood only 5'7" and was a pretty good ballplayer, so he had no problem signing Wilson. Hack was a part-timer in New York, hitting a solid .295 in 1924 before he slumped to .239 in 1925. When he was demoted to the minors and left unprotected, the Cubs snapped him up for $5,000.

Over the next five years, Hack’s worst numbers included a .313 batting average, 21 home runs, and 109 RBI. He won four home run titles from 1926 to 1930 and led the Cubs to the World Series in 1929 when he hit 39 long balls and led the league with 159 RBI.

In 1930, Wilson rode the crest of an offensive wave that swept through baseball to heights never reached before or since. He hit 56 home runs, the NL record, and drove in 190 runs, the major-league record. Hack was named MVP, but it was his last good year. In 1931, he fell to .261 with 13 homers and 61 RBI, prompting the trade that sent him to the Cardinals, who in turn traded him to Brooklyn prior to the ’32 season.

Alcohol proved to be Wilson’s downfall. His bad temper grew worse, he got in fights on and off the field, and he showed up for games drunk or hungover. Through four more seasons, he hit just 51 more homers. He rallied for a season with the Dodgers in 1932 but was out of baseball after 1934. In 1979, Wilson was elected to the Hall.

Here are Hack Wilson's major league totals:


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