COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – They would enter the Hall of Fame posthumously – and in the same year when one of the game’s living legends, Willie Mays, was also enshrined.But the legacies of Warren Giles and Hack Wilson were assured this week 33 years ago – on March 7, 1979 – when they were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
Lewis Robert Wilson, the barrel-chested, 5-foot-6 outfielder from Ellwood City, Pa., hardly looked the part of a center fielder. But after working in a locomotive factory during his teenage years, Wilson hooked on with Martinsburg (W.Va.) of the Blue Ridge League in 1921. By 1923, his talent brought him to the attention of legendary Hall of Fame manager John McGraw, who purchased Wilson’s contract and gave him regular work in the Giants’ outfield the following year.But inconsistent play led McGraw to send Wilson to Toledo of the American Association near the end of the 1925 season, and that winter the Chicago Cubs took Wilson in the Rule 5 draft. The next season, Wilson led the National League in home runs (21) and walks (69) as he began a stretch of five of the best hitting seasons the Senior Circuit had ever seen.“Hack didn’t look much like a ballplayer,” said Clyde Sukeforth, a contemporary of Wilson’s with the Cincinnati Reds and later a super scout for the Dodgers. “He was stocky and muscular. Looked like a fire plug. Very strong.”Wilson led the NL in home runs in both 1927 and 1928, and set a league record for RBIs in 1929 with 159 – leading the Cubs to the National League pennant. But it was the 1930 season that made Wilson a national star. That year – at the peak of the lively ball era – Wilson hit 56 home runs, the first National Leaguer to top 50 in one season and the league record for more than six decades. He drove in 191 runs, still the big league standard. He played for four more seasons, finishing his career with stints with the Dodgers and Phillies. He passed away on Nov. 23, 1948.Giles began his career as a baseball executive in the minor leagues in 1919, eventually gaining a stellar reputation as the president of the Rochester Red Wings (a top affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) from 1928-36. He then served as general manager and team president of the Cincinnati Reds from 1937-51, leading the Reds to the NL pennant in 1939 and a World Series crown in 1940.He was named the National League president in 1951, and oversaw the monumental franchise shifts of the Braves to Milwaukee and Dodgers and Giants to California, as well as expansion in 1962 and in 1969, the last year of his presidency.“Warren Giles was a man of high moral principles and he was tough,” said former executive Gabe Paul, who worked for Giles with the Red Wings and the Reds. “He led the National League for 18 revolutionary years. All the new stadiums were built during his tenure and he solved many crises just by getting on to the scene and staying there until they were solved. He was the greatest president the league ever had.”Giles passed away on Feb. 7, 1979.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum