There were many people
responsible for the Cincinnati Reds winning the World Series in 1940,
but the real hero was a 40-year-old coach who came out of retirement
late in the season and played a significant role in the Reds four
victories over the Detroit Tigers in the Fall Classic.
Jimmie Wilson was one of
baseball's best catchers during the 1920s and 1930s when he caught for the Philadelphia Phillies
and the St. Louis Cardinals. He
came to the Reds as a coach in 1939, replacing Edd Roush, who had
resigned because of contract difficulties.
"Although I've signed as a
coach," Wilson told newspaper reporters when he came to Cincinnati, "I
feel I can catch some and will be ready whenever I'm needed."
He played in only four games
that ]939 season, but late in 1940 his services were badly needed. Ernie
Lombardi, the regular catcher and one of baseball's best hitters,
suffered a badly sprained ankle on September 15 and was finished for the
season. With the suicide of Willard Hershberger, a pair of rookies -
Bill Baker and Dick West - stood to do most of the remaining catching.
Wilson had kept himself in
shape, so when manager Bill McKechnie asked Wilson to finish out the
season behind the plate, Jimmie was ready. He caught the final 16 games
of the regular season, getting ready for the
World Series. And ready he was. Those creaky, aching muscles held
together. Wilson put on a show that ranks as one of the most heroic in
Jimmie Wilson caught six of
the seven World Series games, was the top Reds hitter, handled
Cincinnati's pitching staff with ease and unbelievably stole the only
base in the Series.
In the seventh game, when the
Reds beat the Tigers, 2-1, to win their first championship since 1919,
Wilson had two hits and contributed a key sacrifice in the deciding
two-run seventh inning. He was a team player all the way.
Wilson's major league career
began in 1923 in Philadelphia. He went to the Cardinals in 1928 and
played in two World Series. In 1934 he went back to Philadelphia as a
playing manager, and stayed with the Phillies until he resigned after
the 1938 season.
''I'm tickled to death with
my new job," Wilson said upon arrival in Cincinnati. "But any job would
be better than managing the Phils."
In Wilson's four seasons as
the Philadelphia manager, the Phillies finished next to last three times
and last in 1938. It wasn't
Wilson's fault, though. In fact, he earned praises for the Phillies
seventh-place finishes and many baseball experts marveled at how he kept
the team out of the cellar.
As a manager he was known as
an adept handler of pitchers. It was Wilson who made Bucky Walters a
pitcher, switching him from a run-of-the-mill third baseman into one of
the game's best hurlers in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
And before he signed to coach
with the Reds, a number of other major league teams sought Wilson's
services. Cleveland, for instance, wanted him as a player-coach so that
he could be behind the plate when Bob Feller pitched. Feller, a
flame-throwing kid at that time, went on to stardom and was one of the
game's best-known strikeout pitchers.
Two years after arriving in
Cincinnati, Wilson got another managerial shot, this time with the
Chicago Cubs. He was there a little over three years and returned to
McKechnie's staff in 1944 to coach again. In 1946 he retired and moved to Bradenton, Florida,
where he entered the citrus business. He died the following year of a
Some said he passed on
because of a broken heart. His only son, Bob, who frequently worked out
with the Reds when Wilson was with Cincinnati, was especially close to
his father. The younger Wilson was killed in a plane crash in India during World War
II. Following that
personal tragedy, life didn't hold much joy for Jimmie Wilson.
An outstanding baseball
player and a great man died at the age of 47, a few hours after playing
a round of golf