Historical Hitter

Historical Hitter August 26 1912: Owen Wilson

Before we get to the batter of the day, August 26 is the day baseball changed. The first TV broadcast of a baseball game occurred today in Brooklyn doubleheader of the Dodgers vs. Reds. In a sense of fair play, as called by Red Barber sitting in the “catbird seat,” the Reds took the early game 5-2 and the Dodgers claimed the nightcap 6-1. For the record, Babe Phelps scored the first run seen on TV. The game was broadcast on station W2XBS, which later became WNBC-TV. It was part of an exhibition TV broadcast shown at the 1939 World’s Fair held in Flushing Meadows, now home of the Mets and US Open Tennis. To put this in perspective, the list of Dodgers TV announcers goes Red Barber, Connie Desmond, Vin Scully… and then all the rest.

Owen Wilson Box Score

J. Owen Wilson’s three-base shots are entitled to be credited as one of the wonders of 1912. Best of all, few of the smashes have struck in front of fielders. They have been over their heads or between the fields, all juicy jams. Ask any pitcher if Wilson hits a high ball very hard (A.R. Cratty 1912.)

For the record is not the same Owen Wilson, as the picture below shows. The Washington Post baseball reporter described him as one who, ”looks less like a ballplayer than a kid dressed up as one for Halloween.”  So do how you know who’s the right Owen Wilson from Texas?

Owen Wilson Nationals

John Owen “Chief” Wilson was born on August 21, 1883 on his family’s ranch in Bertram, Texas.  Initially named “Tex” for the obvious reason, he was renamed “Chief” in reference to his manager Fred Clark, who was described as “Chief of the Texas Rangers.”  The name stuck and today you can find “Chief” Owen on the SABR BioProject and other baseball websites. He was not a fast leadoff hitter, being  6’-2” and 185lbs, left handed power hitter, and played in a baseball era where long hits were triples and not home runs.

Owen Wilson T207 Card
Owen Wilson T207 Card

On August 26, 1912, as Sporting Life noted, “the feature of both games was batting of Wilson…”  He hit three triples this day against the last place Boston Nationals.  In fact the Pirates team led the league in triples. To put this perspective this record of 36 Triples has lasted 102 years.

He had a mixed nine year career (1908-1916) in which he started slow and then quickly faded as his first and last seasons were negative WAR years. He was known more for his rifle arm from right field and not his bat.  He led the league in outfield assists with 34 in 1914 and averaged almost 20 assists during his years in Pittsburgh.  He did not hit well batting only .227 and having 18 out of 120 hits as extra base hits. His career strike outs are more than double of his walks. His lack of production at the plate and his very introverted personality led Wilson to regularly receive the sounds of displeasure from the Forbes Field faithful.   In the 1909 World Series won by the Bucs he hit a meager .154 (4 for 26).

Yet the Pirates stuck with him, by 1911 his hitting caught up to his fielding, as he hit .300 for the first time. He hit three triples on June 24, 1911. In his six seasons playing inside spacious Forbes Field, Chief Own hit 94 triples and 44 home runs. During his 1912 record season he hit triples with abandon and in streaks victimizing Hall of Famers and journeyman pitchers equally. Sadly, all the success of 1912 was not replicated in 1913, resulting in after the season trade to St. Louis in an eight man deal (5 Pirates for 3 Cardinals).

Owen Wilson 1914 Cracker Jack Card
Owen Wilson 1914 Cracker Jack Card

Perhaps all those triples took their toll. Sporting Life before the season 1916 reported, “Chief Wilson was the best all-around man Huggins had in the outfield last season, but the Chief’s legs are brittle, and even when not out of the game he is frequently so badly crippled as to rob him of much of his efficiency.”

Owen Wilson HeadshotAfter the 1916 season he returned to Texas and his ranch. His final baseball days were 19 games with the minor league San Antonio Broncos in 1917.  In 2007, the Bertram, Texas Little League complex was named in honor of him.


Sporting Life Volume 60 Number 1, September  7,  1912.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2010/12/rs-_howdoyouknow.html. The movie:  thumbs down.

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ed5711f8 SABR BioProject by Mark Armour



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