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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 26, 2012 at 10:49 AM

Farewell to Jack Wilson, solid but beleaguered pro

jackwilson.jpg

(Seattle Times photo)

Word broke yesterday that shortstop Jack Wilson is retiring, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. His career had fizzled the last couple of years, he’s had health issues, and this season, Wilson played just 40 games, hitting .169, before the Braves released him on Aug. 31. Most of Wilson’s season was spent on the disabled list with a dislocated finger. He is 34.

It’s been a fine career. WIlson made an All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger (you can look it up), and probably should have won a Gold Glove or two. He was the Pirates’ starting shortstop for nearly a decade, earned more than $40 million dollars, and made a lot of friends around the game. I enjoyed him a great deal during his stint with the Mariners, which began in late July of 2009, when Wilson arrived in a trade with the Pirates, and ended on Aug. 31 of last season, when the Mariners traded him to the Braves. He turned in a lot of Web Gems, though it’s unfortunate that the memory most people will have of Jack Wilson in Seattle will be him being ripped by Eric Wedge in April of 2011 when he pulled himself out of a game in Texas.

It’s safe to say Wilson never quite recovered from that incident before he headed out of town. But I’ve always had empathy for Wilson for another reason: I can’t imagine there are many players in the history of baseball that endured more losing than him. Here’s some cruel irony: Wilson was originally the property of the St. Louis Cardinals, who drafted him in the ninth round in 1998 out of Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High School. But before he could break in with that team — which would go on to make three World Series in the 2000s, winning two of them — the Cardinals sent him, as a minor-leaguer, to the Pirates in a trade-deadline deal for pitcher Jason Christiansen in July of 2000.

By 2001, Wilson had become the Pirates’ starting shortstop, a job he held through the 2009 season. Here are the Pirates records in those years:

2001: 62-100

2002: 72-89

2003: 75-87

2004: 72-89

2005: 67-95

2006: 67-95

2007: 68-94

2008: 67-95

Then, in 2009, the Pirates were at 43-57 when they sent Wilson to Seattle on July 29. The Mariners were 52-48 at the time, and went 33-29 the rest of the season — the only winning stint of Wilson’s career (though they fell from 7 1/2 to 12 games out of first place during that time).

Then came disastrous 2010, which resulted in 101 losses for the Mariners. In 2011, the M’s were 20 games under .500, 57-77, when they traded him to the Braves, who were seemingly cruising to a wild-card berth. I was happy for WIlson — he’d finally get a long-awaited taste of the postseason. Oops. The Braves collapsed in September, going 9-18 after Wilson’s arrival, including five straight losses at the end of the season, when the Cardinals slipped past them for the wild-card berth (en route to a World Series title).

Put it all together, and the win-loss record for Wilson’s teams heading into this season was 753-1,026 — a ridiculous 273 games under .500, and a .423 winning percentage. By comparison, another shortstop, Derek Jeter, went 1,040-709 in the regular-season during that time. Jeter is clearly the superior player — vastly — but the disparity is much more an indictment of Wilson’t teams than Wilson himself.

This year, the Braves are indeed headed to the playoffs, but Wilson — signed to a one-year, $1 million contract before the season — isn’t a part of it. In a nice gesture, however, the Braves are welcoming him to stay around the team. So Jack Wilson could get his taste of the postseason after all.

Vicariously.

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