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Hack Wilson


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Lewis Robert “Hack” Wilson (April 26, 1900 – November 23, 1948) played 12 seasons in Major League Baseball for the New York Giants (1923-25), Chicago Cubs (1926-31), Brooklyn Dodgers (1932-34), and Philadelphia Phillies (1934). He led the National League in home runs four times (1926-28, 1930) and in runs batted in (RBI) twice (1929-30). His 1930 season was one for the ages, as he hit 56 homers and knocked in 191 runs (increased by one in 1999 due to an original scorekeeping error). His 191 RBIs remain the Major League record for a season, and his 56 homers constituted the single-season National League record until it was broken by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998. Wilson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

A native of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, Wilson started his pro career in 1921 with the minor-league Martinsburg Blue Sox, playing at Rosemont Park (now War Memorial Park). The previous year, future New York Yankee great Robert Moses “Lefty” Grove had begun his career with the same team. At 5’6”, Wilson was stockily built, with an 18” collar and a 5½ shoe size. During the off-season he worked at Martinsburg’s Interwoven Mills for 20 cents an hour. In 1922, he belted 30 homers and hit .362, leading the Class D Blue Ridge League in both categories.

During this time, he met Virginia Riddleberger (1890-1940), who sold tickets at a local theater. They were married in 1923 and had a son, Robert Wilson (1925-85), who later was principal of Berkeley Heights Elementary School in Martinsburg. Even after he made the big leagues, Hack Wilson spent many off-seasons in the one place that felt like home: Martinsburg.

After retiring in 1934, he moved back and became co-owner of a downtown pool hall. As John “Dubber” Brumbaugh recalled, Wilson would lock the doors at midnight and let patrons eat and drink for free into the wee hours of the morning. He formed and barnstormed with a local semi-pro team, the Martinsburg Bombers, and was an assistant coach for Shepherd State College’s football team. Divorced from Virginia in 1937, he married Hazel Miller (1913-96), a waitress at the pool hall, in 1938. His giving ways soon drove his business into bankruptcy, and he moved to Baltimore, where alcoholism led to his death in 1948. Hazel, by then estranged from her husband, refused to claim his body and turned it over to the “people of Martinsburg.” The Martinsburg Elks took up a collection, brought him back to town, buried him in Rosedale Cemetery, and erected a $3,000 marker on his grave.

Written by Stan Bumgardner

Sources

  1. Aikin, William E.. West Virginia Baseball: A History, 1865-2000. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2006.

  2. Darby, Al. "Martinsburg's Link to Baseball History". Martinsburg Journal, October 9, 1994.

  3. Parker, Clifton Blue. Fouled Away: The Baseball Tragedy of Hack Wilson. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2000.

  4. Vingle, Mitch. "Wilson's Sad Life Ended in W.Va.". Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail, July 23, 1995.

  5. Whiteford, Mike. "Memories and Mementos of a Legend Still Bring a Smile to a Country Woman". Charleston Gazette, February 3, 1989.