George Wilson

“Were it not for his color, [Wilson] would be in one of the Big Leagues.”
  --a newspaper report about Wilson when he joined St. Cloud, Minnesota
(from the book "Swinging for the Fences," by Steven Hoffbeck)

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Negro Leaguer of the Month

March, 2009

George Wilson

Born: 1876 in Palmyra, Michigan
Ht: 6'-0", Wt: 190
Position: pitcher
Years Played: 1895-1910
Batted and threw right
Teams: Adrian, Michigan; Page Fence Giants; Havana (Cuban Winter League) Chicago Columbia Giants; Waseca Eaco Flour; St. Cloud, MN

This month's edition of the Negro Leaguer of the Month is not so much about one man, George Wilson, as it is about a remarkable team he played for, the 1901 Waseca, Minnesota semipro team, one of the first significant integrated teams in history.

Wilson first gained prominance while playing with the 1895 Adrian, Michigan professional team. On this team, Wilson, a fast righthanded hurler, went 29-3, while batting .327. He wasn't the best player on the team, however, as a bow-legged shortstop named Honus Wagner also played for Adrian!

When Adrian's team became segregated a year later, Wilson played with the Page Fence Giants and Chicago Columbia Giants, two of the greatest all-black teams of the era.

In 1901, Wilson was hired by the Waseca, Minnesota semipro team, sponsored by the EACO Flour company. Wilson was the highest-paid player on the team, receiving $105 per month, and the team was supported by 300-500 fans per game, with adults paying a quarter and kids a dime.

Waseca was in a league, along with Manson, Mason City, Fort Dodge, Algona, Webster City and LaMars, Iowa, which they won, and played many non-league games against the best semipro teams in the Midwest, including the famous Flandreau Indians of South Dakota and the Chicago Marquettes. Waseca also played, and beat, the Kansas City Blues of the Western League in Organized Baseball in an exhibition.

Waseca had a three-man pitching staff made up of Wilson, black star Bill Holland (not the same Bill Holland that would pitch with the New York Black Yankees years later) and McLeary. The third black player on the team was an outstanding catcher named Robert Footes.

Wilson led the team with and 18-8 record, while Holland went 11-4 and McLeary went 15-10. Wilson also batted in the heart of the order--usually 4th or 5th--and was the most feared slugger on the team, batting over .350 with power.

Minnesota weather was incredible in 1901, with some of Waseca's early games being played in near-freezing weather, and a game in July saw several players pass out due to 118 degree heat!

After being named the best semipro team to play in Iowa, Waseca grabbed the mantle of the best team of South Dakota by winning the prestigeos Lake Benton Tournament. The only state left to conquer was their home state, and Waseca was challenged by Litchfield for the Minnesota championship.

The big game was held at Lexington Park, home of the St. Paul Saints of the American Association, and 9270 fans packed into the park, with the overflow actually standing along the foul lines.

As expected, Wilson was given the responsibility of pitching the big game, and he came through like a champ, limiting Litchfield to two runs on two hits, striking out nine and walking none. At the plate, Wilson belted a third inning homer into the large crowd in left to lead Waseca to a 9-2 win.

Waseca ended the year with a 53-29 record, and the championship run was a huge financial success for Waseca's management, as they ended the season with a $3000 profit.

Waseca EACO Flour, 1901 Minnesota Semipro Champs
George Wilson back row, far left; Bill Holland front row, second from right;
Robert Footes front row, far right