It was Jackie Robinson who reportedly encouraged the Brooklyn Dodgers to sign Bobby Wilson out of the Negro Leagues.
And when No. 42 spoke, the Dodgers listened, especially after his 1949 season in which he won the National League batting title and was named league MVP.
Born in 1925 in Dallas, Texas, Wilson proved to be a strong, athletic and versatile player in his three years in the Negro Leagues with the Newark and Houston Eagles from 1947 to 1949, before the Dodgers signed him prior to the 1950 season.
The 5-foot-11 Wilson was assigned to the Dodgers’ Class-A affiliate in Elmira in 1950, where he played third base and hit .299 in 65 games. He returned to Elmira the following campaign and boosted his batting average to .313 – the first of seven minor league seasons that he would bat higher than .300.
But Wilson’s breakout season came in 1952, when he was promoted to the Dodgers’ Triple-A St. Paul Saints. Having just turned 27, the stocky third baseman proceeded to hit .334 and knock in 117 runs in 154 games. It was the type of season that you’d think would’ve earned him a big league job the following year, but the Dodgers, who won the National League pennant in 1952, were content to stick with defensive standout Billy Cox as their third baseman.
Wilson returned to St. Paul in 1953 and hit .317 with 12 homers in 147 games, but again couldn’t crack the major league roster the following spring. In 1954, Wilson found himself north of the border with the Montreal Royals for the first time. He adjusted well, and registered a .306 batting average in 106 games. That season would be the first of parts of five seasons for Wilson in Montreal, making him one of the longest tenured Royals and putting him near the top of many of the club’s all-time statistical categories.
His finest season with the Royals came after they converted him into an outfielder in 1955. He finished that campaign with a .317 batting average and 85 RBI to help the club to a first-place finish. He continued to be a force with the bat with the Royals in 1956 and 1957, when he hit .306 and .290, respectively.
But his switch to the outfield did little to help his big league aspirations. No one was going to unseat Duke Snider in centre field or Carl Furillo in right field and Wilson found himself well down on the club’s outfield depth chart behind Sandy Amoros, Gino Cimoli and Don Thompson.
Wilson enjoyed his first – and only – taste of big league action in 1958 when he appeared in three games in two days. He promptly lined a single to left field off of Cardinals hurler Larry Jackson in his first major league at bat (a pinch-hit appearance) in the top of the eighth inning on May 17. Wilson then appeared in both games of a doubleheader the following day. He struck out in a ninth-inning, pinch-hit appearance in the first game and went 0-for-3 as the starting right fielder in the second. The Dodgers shipped him back to Triple-A St. Paul shortly thereafter.
He split 1959 between Montreal and their International League rival Toronto Maple Leafs and batted a combined .325 with a career-high 17 homers. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough to earn him a return trip to the big leagues.
In 1960, he was purchased by the Cleveland Indians and assigned to their Triple-A affiliate Toronto Maple Leafs, before he was released and landed with the Kansas City A’s Triple-A Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers. By this time, Wilson was 35 and his batting average had dropped to .226, but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Angels from selecting him in the 1960 expansion draft. But rather than report to the Angels, Wilson opted to retire and return to Dallas.
Little has been written about Wilson’s post-baseball life, but Baseball Reference indicates that he worked as a custodian and caretaker at a swimming centre in Dallas.
He passed away on April 23, 1985 at the age of 60. He’s buried in the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Dallas.
*This is the 10th article in my series about members of the 1954 Montreal Royals. You can read my articles about Roberto Clemente, Billy Harris, Don Thompson, Gino Cimoli,Chico Fernandez, Glenn Cox , Joe Black, Ed Roebuck and Jack Cassini by clicking on their names.