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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.

September 16, 2011 at 9:18 AM

Jack Wilson, after a decade-plus of losing, on a winner at last


(Jack Wilson, now playing shortstop for the Braves, dives for a ball in a Sept. 11 game against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Photo by Getty Images).

I don’t have the research to back this up, but I’ve got to think that Jack Wilson has played in more losing games than any player of his generation.

He broke in with the Pirates in 2001, when they were eight seasons into a streak of sub-.500 seasons that reached 19 on Wednesday. From 2001 through 2008, when Wilson was the regular shortstop in Pittsburgh, they never won more than 75 games, and lost 94 or more five times.

Then in 2009, he was traded to the Mariners on July 29. At the time of the trade, the Pirates were 14 games under .500 at 43-57. That two-month stretch with the Mariners provided the only taste of winning baseball Wilson has thus far experience — a modest 32-29 record.

Alas, 2010 found Wilson right back on a poorly performing team, a Mariners squad that lost 101 games. And this year has been more of the same, a trying season for Wilson in which he switched positions, incurred the wrath of manager Eric Wedge for asking out of a game in Texas, quickly lost his starting job to Adam Kennedy, and landed on the disabled list in August with a bruised heel.

But on Aug. 31, just in time to be eligible for the postseason, Wilson was traded to the Atlanta Braves, and now finds himself in line for the first playoff experience of his career. He hasn’t played much with the Braves (he has 20 at-bats in eight games, with a .250 average), but he’s shown enough with the glove to be assured a spot on the post-season roster. That’s if the Braves don’t squander their wild-card lead, which had dwindled to 4 1/2 games but is back at 5 1/2 over the Cardinals. Wouldn’t you know it — Wilson’s arrival has coincided wtih a slump by Atlanta, which is 6-9 since Wilson came aboard.

Just for perverse fun, I totaled up Wilson’s win-loss record, right up through Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Marlins.

Drum roll, please: Wilson’s teams are 749-1,017. That’s 268 games under .500, and a .424 winning percentage. Now, I’d be quick to argue that doesn’t make him a “losing” player — it wasn’t Wilson’s fault that he found himself embedded in a hopeless Pittsburgh organization, or traded to a Mariners’ team that was at its nadir. He was a victim of circumstance.

This past week, a shortstop named Derek Jeter was on display at Safeco Field. He’s a player whose career couldn’t have had a more diametrically opposed arc than Wilson’s. Jeter has done nothing but win. Starting in 2001, the year Wilson broke into the majors, Jeter’s Yankees teams have gone 1,063-702. That’s 361 games over .500, and a .602 winning percentage. In that span, Jeter has enjoyed 314 more victories than his fellow shortstop Wilson, and Wilson has suffered through 315 more defeats than Jeter.

Jeter has been a fantastic player, vastly superior to Wilson and a a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but obviously he’s had infinitely more talent surrounding him in New York. It’s interesting to ponder how Jeter’s career would have gone, and how he would be regarded historically, if he had been drafted by the Pirates instead of the Yankees.

For now, I’m happy for Jack Wilson — a great guy who endured his plight with grace — as he nears the first October of his career.

Here are the year-by-year records of Jack Wilson’s teams:

2001: 62-100

2002: 72-89

2003: 75-87

2004: 72-89

2005: 67-95

2006: 67-95

2007: 68-94

2008: 67-95

2009: 43-57 (with Pittsburgh), 32-29 (with Seattle)

2010: 61-101

2011: 57-77 (with Seattle), 6-9 (with Atlanta)

Total: 749-1,017 (.424)



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