Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Artie Wilson 1920-2010

Artie Wilson, a pesky, slap-hitting shortstop in the Negro leagues who created a signing feud between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians after he hit .402 for the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948, a circumstance that may have cost him a major league career, died Oct. 31 in Portland, Ore. He was 90.

Wilson played five years for Birmingham, where, in spite of having lost the top joint of his right thumb in a factory accident, he twice led the Negro American League in batting and became a mentor and friend to a teenage teammate, Willie Mays.

A speedy left-handed hitter, Wilson epitomized the table-setting leadoff man. He hit so often to the opposite field that some teams played three infielders on the left side against him. He was also an accomplished base-stealer and a slick fielder, especially adept at turning the double play.

His sky-high average in 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues, is thought to represent the last time anyone at the top level of professional baseball broke the .400 barrier. (Ted Williams, the last major league player to accomplish the feat, batted .406 in 1941.)

Arthur Lee Wilson was born in Springfield, Ala., on Oct. 28, 1920, and raised by his mother, Martha Wilson, in Birmingham. He played semipro ball for a factory team before joining the Black Barons in 1944. After being released by the Giants, he played minor league ball for several more seasons before starting a career in auto sales.

In addition to his wife, the former Dorothy Daniels, whom he married in 1949, he is survived by their two children, Zoe A. Wilson Price, of Forsyth, Ill., and Arthur Lee II, of Honolulu; a daughter from a previous marriage, Jean Walden, of Youngstown, Ohio; a grandson, three granddaughters and nine great-grandsons.

“A baseball team,” Dorothy Wilson said.

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