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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 1, 2010 at 2:32 PM

Seattle Rainiers legend Artie Wilson dies at age 90

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In the top picture, courtesy of Seattle historian David Eskenazi, Artie Wilson is shown during the Seattle Rainiers spring training in 1952. In the bottom photo, from the Seattle Times files, Wilson, left, is honored along with Lionel Wilson at the Kingdome in 1995).

Sad news out of Portland, where Artie Wilson, former Seattle Rainiers shortstop and Negro Leagues star, died at the age of 90. Here is the obituary in the Portland Oregonian (Wilson and his wife of 61 years, Dorothy, settled in Portland, where he played with the Portland Beavers in the 1950s, after his retirement). And here is the MLB.com writeup.

Wilson had a fascinating and highly productive baseball career. He is credited with being the last player in a professional league to hit .400, accumulating a .402 average with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues in 1948. While with the Barons, Wilson mentored a 16-year-old outfielder named Willie Mays. I talked today to Wilson’s son, Artie II, who lives in Hawaii. He said that he attended Mays’s 75th birthday party in San Francisco along with his parents in 2006, and that Mays told the assembled crowd, “I learned to play baseball with Artie Wilson.

“My dad’s relationship with Willie was special,” Artie Wilson II. told me. “He was with the Birmingham Black Barons when Willie started at age 16. When my dad was with the New York Giants (for 19 games in 1951), he was the one who told Leo Durocher they should go get a young kid named Willie Mays. Willie even took my dad’s roster spot with the Giants.”

Mays told the Oregonian, “He was one of the guys that made sure I didn’t get in any trouble. I owe a lot of debt to him.”

With the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, Wilson became, along with Bob Boyd, the team’s first African-American players in 1952. They battled for the PCL batting title in 1952, with Boyd edging out Wilson. In his three seasons with Seattle (1952-54), Wilson hit .316, .332 and .336, amassing 216, 212 and 222 hits in those years.

Artie Wilson II told me, “I actually learned to walk in Seattle” as an infant while his dad was playing for the Rainiers. “We lived at 19th and Columbia. He just loved playing in the Seattle area. The old stadium, Sicks Stadium, even had a statue of him for a long time.”

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(This is a team picture of the 1952 Rainiers, with Wilson in the front row, again from the collection of David Eskenazi).

Wilson recalled a ceremony at the Kingdome honoring the Negro Leagues players in the 1990s in which Alex Rodriguez accompanied Artie Wilson to shortstop.

“I’ve had a number of people tell me that the closest player to my dad in the way he swung the bat was Ichiro,” Wilson said.

Artie Wilson II said his father, who worked as a car salesman in Portland after his baseball career, was in excellent health until recently, when he began to show signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Unfortunately, he lost a lot of weight. Once that happened, he just went to sleep one night and didn’t get up.”

Wilson said funeral and memorial details are still pending.

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