Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
Here’s the reverse side of the postcard featuring the 1908 Manitowoc, Wisconsin, ball club and its star pitcher/outfielder, George H. Wilson. Dan Yaw doesn’t know the identity of the sender, “Jack,” who could be one of the players, a player’s relative, just a fan in Manitowoc….who knows? But maybe the addressee, Otto Foerster of Sheboygan, is a clue.
Does anybody happen to know how they did in 1909?
Looking back at the front of the postcard, I like Dog the Mascot. And I hope nobody needs me to tell them it’s not THAT Cy Young.
Dan Yaw has sent in a scan of this fantastic 1908 postcard, complete with enthusiastic commentary by the sender, featuring the Manitowoc, Wisconsin, team, champions of the Lake Shore League. Number six, standing on the far right, is our old friend George H. Wilson.
Todd Peterson, who’s working on a book for McFarland about the St. Paul Gophers and early black baseball in Minnesota, has written in about his research on George H. Wilson. “Wilson,” Todd says, “was a tremendous pitcher and quite a flamboyant personality – the ‘whole show’ as one paper called him.” He “was part of a migration of Chicago players to Minnesota in the early 20th century and he pitched for several teams in the area, most notably the Waseca EACO’s, the Renville All-Stars and St. Cloud.”
Todd has compiled the following chronology for Wilson (sources including Sol White; James Riley; Ancestry.com; and local newspapers):
George H. Wilson P Born July 1875, Michigan 1894 Adrian (MI) Light Guard 1895 Page Fence Giants 1895 Adrian (MI) (Michigan State League) 1896-1898 Page Fence Giants 1899-1900 Chicago Columbia Giants 1900-1902 Waseca (MN) EACO’s 1903 St. Cloud (MN) 1903 Algona (IA) Brownies (late in season) 1904-1905 Chippewa Falls (WI) 1905 Renville (MN) All Stars 1905 Chicago Union Giants (late in season) 1906 Sheboygan (MI)
There’s some question about whether the Sheboygan referred to in 1906 was the one in Michigan or the one in Wisconsin; a note in the Minneapolis Tribune (August 1906) about Wilson going home to pitch (he was from Michigan) led Todd to think it was in Michigan. On the other hand, a couple of the references Joe Niese sent me about Wilson came from a Sheboygan, Wisconsin, paper, though they aren’t from 1906 and refer to Wilson playing for a team in Manitowoc, rather than Sheboygan.
It seems, from the material Joe sent me, that Todd can add 1906/07 Habana (Cuban League) and 1907-1909 Manitowoc (WI), Lake Shore League, to the list.
And Todd has sent me the following 1902 photo of George Wilson, in his Waseca EACO uniform (from the Minnesota Historical Society):
UPDATE 1/21/2008 1:13 p.m. David Skinner wrote in the following:
There is in fact no such place as Sheboygan, Michigan. Frequently confused with Sheboygan, Wisconsin, however, is Cheboygan, Michigan, with a
C. Sheboygan is a small city of 50,000 plus which actually had minor
league ball for a number of years in the 40s. Cheboygan, on the other
hand, is a VERY small town of under 5,000 and of course never had pro
ball. My definition of a very small town is one smaller than my beloved
Bisbee, which has OVER 5,000 brave souls. None of this has any bearing
on George Wilson, who could well have played on a town team, which
undoubtedly Cheboygan, like seemingly every other Midwest small town,
David also had high praise for Todd’s presentation on the St. Paul Gophers at the SABR national convention last summer.
And he sent a brief correction to his first message:
My bad. Both Bisbee and Cheboygan have grown and gotten ahead of me. I
checked the actual 2000 census figures and Sheboygan is still over
50,000, while Cheboygan has climbed over 5,000. But not to be outdone,
Bisbee soared to over 6,000 (you'd hardly notice) and remained over
1,000 bigger, leaving Cheboygan as I said a very small town.
Joe Niese has written in to correct the identity of pitcher/outfielder “Wilson” of the 1906/07 Habana club in the Cuban League. This player is identified by Jorge Figueredo as the Negro Leaguer Ray Wilson, who came to Cuba with the Cuban X Giants in 1903, 1904, and 1905 (this is verified by passenger manifests). I just followed Figueredo in assuming the Habana player in 1906/07 was Ray Wilson.
But Ray Wilson was a first baseman in Cuba, and didn't pitch at all in his previous visits. Meanwhile, I ignored the fact that Roberto González Echevarría calls this player “George Wilson,” mostly because he goes on to speculate that was really former Boston Americans pitcher George Prentiss, who played under the name “George Wilson” in 1901 (The Pride of Havana, p. 127). More importantly, I completely overlooked James Riley’s entry on the turn-of-the-century lefthanded pitcher George H. Wilson, who had pitched for the integrated Adrian club in the 1895 Michigan State League, reportedly going 29-4 (one teammate being Grant “Home Run” Johnson). Riley comments that Wilson “pitched with the Havana team in the Cuban winter league in 1907” (p. 863).
While researching Wilson’s time with white clubs in Wisconsin in the mid- to late 1900s, Joe Niese came up with this, from the Racine Daily Journal (September 9, 1907):
“Though the baseball season in the Lake Shore League will not be finished until October, overtures are already being made here by the Havana team of the Cuban league for George Wilson, the colored twirler who has pitched such sensational ball for the Manitowoc team. Wilson pitched Havana into being a contender for the pennant in the Cuban league last winter, winning over two-thirds of his games and the management there is again desirous of securing the dusky slugger. Wilson, however will decline the offer of the Havana team even though the figure set for his salary is $500 per month, since he finds that arm will not stand a winter and summer pitching siege.”
I checked in Cuban newspapers, and while I didn't find Wilson's first name or any very specific information about him, I did find an indication in Diario de la Marina (February 8, 1907) that he was brought to Cuba on the recommendation of “Johnson,” presumably his teammate Chappie Johnson (Wilson arrived several weeks after the season had started). Chappie Johnson and George H. Wilson played together for several years on the Page Fence Giants, Columbia Giants, and Chicago Union Giants, whereas Chappie Johnson and Ray Wilson had never been teammates (to my knowledge) up to 1907. Ray Wilson was an east coast player, Chappie Johnson and George Wilson were both midwestern players. So I see much better reason for thinking the Habana player is in fact George H. Wilson rather than Ray Wilson, absent any evidence to the contrary. So I’ve corrected my 1906/07 Cuban League stats to reflect this change. This would mean that two pitchers on the 1906/07 Habana club, Wilson and George McQuillan, are wrongly identified in Figueredo.
Available passenger manifests, by the way, do not show any known player named Wilson returning to the U.S. that spring, so no help there. (His teammates McQuillan and Johnson can't be found, either.)
Joe Niese also found that Habana or some other Cuban outfit made overtures to Wilson in the fall of 1908. According to the Sheboygan Daily Press (September 14, 1908), “George Wilson will leave Manitowoc in a few days for Cuba where it is expected he will sign with some Cuban team. It is not certain whether he will return to Manitowoc next summer.” The same paper would refer the following spring (May 20, 1909) to “Wilson[,] who went to Cuba last fall to play with Havana.” Wilson didn’t play in the Havana-based Cuban League that fall or winter, but it’s possible he performed in the Las Villas championship, or some other provincial league.
In the Indianapolis Freeman, February 24, 1917, Dave Wyatt compiles a list of 38 black ballplayers who had died within the past ten years, including three we’ve discussed here (Bill Monroe, Bill Lindsay, and John Chenault). He includes the cause of death (tuberculosis for Monroe and Lindsay, heart failure for Chenault) and the place of death (he mistakenly gives Kansas City for Lindsay, though he’s correct on the other two), but not the date.
Appearing consecutively are: R. Wilson—Insanity, Cuban X Giants, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. George Wilson—Insanity, Page Fence Giants, Palmyra, Michigan.
Yes, Wyatt lists “insanity” as the cause of death for both men. Here’s an interesting discussion of what that might mean (which would depend on Wyatt’s sources, of course; he would most likely have been relying on newspaper reports, which presumably would have often been less precise than a medical examiner’s report or death certificate).