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The Coach Who Caught The Series: JIMMIE WILSON 

         

    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 Cincinnati history.

 

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 heart attack.

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

 

         
       

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