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Jud Wilson Bio

One of the greatest hitters in Negro League history, Jud Wilson gained general recognition during his playing career as one of black baseball’s most feared hitters, and as one of its fiercest competitors.  Identified by Satchel Paige as one of the two toughest hitters he ever faced, Wilson intimidated opposing pitchers with his powerful swing and fearless attitude.  Striding to the plate in a manner that revealed his utter contempt for pitchers, Wilson carried inside him an inner rage that often manifested itself through acts of violence, towards opponents, teammates, and umpires alike.

Early career

Born in Remington, Virginia on February 28, 1894, Ernest Judson Wilson served in World War I, before beginning his career in black baseball with the Eastern Colored League’s Baltimore Black Sox at age 28 in 1922.  The left-handed hitting third baseman caught everyone’s attention during his initial tryout with the Black Sox, quickly earning the nickname “Boojum” due to the sound his line drives made when they smashed up against outfield fences during batting practice.  In later years, the press described Wilson as "probably the hardest hitter Negro baseball has seen."  The Black Sox captured the championship of the South in Wilson’s first year with the club – one of 10 times he played for a championship team during his 24-year Negro League career.

Negro League star

Wilson remained in Baltimore another eight years, establishing a reputation during that time second to none in terms of his ability to hit a baseball.  Longtime Negro League manager and team owner Cum Posey considered him to be the most dangerous and consistent hitter in all of black baseball, placing him on the all-time All-American team for a national magazine in 1945.  A savage, pure hitter with outstanding power, Wilson possessed a disdain for pitchers so intense that he actually dared them to throw the ball.  Built like a wrestler, the 5’8”, 185-pound Wilson had a big upper body and a small waist, and was slightly bowlegged and pigeon-toed.  Although somewhat awkward, he had good running speed and a decent glove in the field.  Described as “a crude but effective workman” at third base, Wilson played the hot corner by keeping everything in front of him, knocking the ball down with his chest, and then throwing the batter out at first base.

While considered merely adequate as a fielder, Wilson built his reputation largely on his hitting prowess.  A multiple batting champion, he won his first batting title in 1923, with a mark of .373.  Wilson posted batting averages of .377, .395, .346, .408, .376, .350, .372, .323, .356, .354, .342, .324, .315, and .386 in subsequent seasons, compiling over the course of his career a lifetime average of .345 – the third highest in Negro League history.  He also ranks 10th in lifetime home runs, and he batted .356 in 26 games against white major leaguers.  A legend in Cuba as well, he starred there for six winters, winning two batting titles and recording the highest lifetime average in the Cuban Winter Leagues, with a mark of .372. 

Over the course of his career, Wilson was an integral member of four teams that are easily identifiable as some of the greatest teams in black baseball history.  During a six-year stretch, he starred with the 1929 Baltimore Black Sox, the 1931 Homestead Grays, the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords, and the 1934 Philadelphia Stars. All four squads won championships, with the Black Sox winning the American Negro League pennant, the Stars taking the Negro National League pennant, the Crawfords claiming an unofficial championship, and the Grays winning a playoff for their championship. Wilson served as captain of the Grays – a team that is considered by many to be the greatest in the history of black baseball.  He later won another six championships as a member of the Grays from 1940 to 1945.

After nine years in Baltimore, Wilson moved on to the Homestead Grays in 1931, before he and most of his teammates jumped to the Pittsburgh Crawfords in 1932.  He joined the Philadelphia Stars in 1933, at which point Webster McDonald, the team's pitcher-manager, appointed him team captain in order to constructively channel Wilson's competitive spirit.  While McDonald’s strategy benefited his team in that Wilson ended up leading the Stars to the 1934 pennant, it did not prevent the pugnacious slugger from punching an umpire during the 1934 playoffs.

Violent temperament

Wilson’s aggressive actions were not seen as being particularly unusual for him.  A habitual brawler with a fierce temper, the competitive and contentious Wilson became known almost as much for his fighting as he was for his hitting.  And he loathed umpires almost as much as he hated pitchers.  Wilson once became so angered at umpire Phil Cockrell, a former player, because of a call that he made in a game against the Grays, that he grabbed the official by the skin of his chest and lifted him off the floor, berating him for cheating his team out of a game.  Wilson’s fury did not subside until his teammate "Crush" Holloway picked up a bat and interceded on behalf of the umpire. Only then did Wilson gain control of his temper and let the umpire go.  Although Wilson’s on-field conduct improved slightly as he got older, he never eliminated his need to exercise greater restraint in his behavior, carrying with him throughout his career a reputation for being "the toughest man to handle in baseball."  In 1925 this reputation led to his arrest on a "frame-up" assault charge.

Yet, as mean and nasty as Wilson could be on the field, he carried himself in a far more congenial manner once he took off his uniform.  He roomed with little Jake Stephens on the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, and Philadelphia Stars, and the two men became very good friends.  In the final days of Wilson’s life, he continued to recognize his former teammate by name, even though he found himself unable to recognize anyone else. 

Later career

Appointed player-manager of the Stars in 1937, Wilson became a strict disciplinarian who did not tolerate loafing or showboating on the field.  After batting .373 for the Stars in 1939, he left the team to join the Homestead Grays, with whom he won six straight pennants.  Although well past his prime, Wilson still managed to post batting averages of .282, .340, .255, .350, .417, and .288 for the Grays, before finally announcing his retirement at the conclusion of the 1945 campaign at the age of 51.  Afflicted with epilepsy during the latter stages of his career, Wilson had to be hospitalized more than once.  On one particular occasion, a game had to be stopped because the third baseman, completely oblivious to his surroundings, was discovered drawing little circles in the dirt with his finger.  After retiring from baseball, Wilson worked for a road crew building  Washington, D.C.'s, Whitehurst Freeway.

Hall of Fame

 

Although Jud Wilson’s surly disposition and dour reputation helped keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame for many years, his playing ability eventually earned him a spot in Cooperstown.  The members of the Veterans Committee elected him posthumously in 2006, 43 years after he passed away at the age of 69 on June 24, 1963.

 
 

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Tagged:
Baltimore Black Sox, Cum Posey, Hall of Fame, Homestead Grays, Jud Wilson, Judy Johnson, Negro Leagues, Philadelphia Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Ray Dandridge, Satchel Paige

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