Arthur Lee Wilson was a superstar shortstop in the Negro leagues, mostly for the Birmingham Barons. He was an All-Star in four of his first five years in the Negro Leagues. A rookie named Jackie Robinson took the All-Star honors the only year Wilson wasn’t named to the team. In 1948 Wilson hit .402 for the Barons, seven years after “Teddy Ballgame” hit .406. Wilson was known for using the opposite field and his great speed.
While Wilson was hitting .379 in the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1948, the infamous Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck attempted to sign him. Meanwhile the Indians and Yankees were fighting to sign another Negro League star (Luis Marquez). The resolve was sent down by commissioner Happy Chandler. Cleveland got Marquez and the Yankees got Wilson. Seemingly not please New York traded Wilson to the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. So instead of being possibly the first African American Yankee, Wilson was left to toil in the PCL.
He would eventually get noticed by the New York Giants. Thanks to 564 hits and 84 stolen bases in two and half seasons as an Oak. They traded for him and he made the big club as reserve after a brief stint with the Giants minor league affiliate the Minneapolis Millers.
Where Wilson legacy lies is ultimately very sad. When the fiery Giants skipper Leo “the Lip” Durocher called for the promotion of a “Say Hey Kid” named Mays, it was Wilson that was demoted. Wilson had received just 22 Major League at-bats and he hit only .182. The move paved the way for the hall of fame career of Willie Mays. It somewhat of an unspoken move, to make room for Mays to play everyday the Giants shifted Bobby “Shot heard round the world” Thompson from centerfield to third base. The Giants normal third baseman Hank Thompson was injured. The Giants did have a powerful Negro League veteran third baseman named Ray Dandridge at Triple-A Minneapolis. The unspoken part was many believed that teams were reluctant to bring up too many black players.
So it was that players like Artie Wilson and Dandridge who were both in their thirties presented no future for Major Leagues clubs. Wilson and Dandridge were both teammates and mentors to Willie Mays. Unfortunately, it was at their expense. Stories like this litter baseball’s past. But, the so-called gentleman’s agreement to not allow blacks to play in the Majors for nearly half a century, forced legends to become legendary later on.
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