When discussing the great Negro League players one gets used to hearing about the same group of players. Satchel Paige, Bullet Rogan, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and a few others are the mainstays of Negro League discussions. They have become renowned enough in baseball circles that people not familiar with the Negro Leagues feel comfortable namedropping them as examples of Negro League greatness. There are plenty of examples of Negro League greatness who don’t find themselves being readily dropped into a conversation. One such example is Jud Wilson, he of the surly demeanor and amazing bat.
When I say surly, I’m not lying. Wilson garnered a reputation early in his career for being, well, a prick. He didn’t feel like he ever got the respect he deserved and by gosh the five-foot-eight sparkplug was going to take his respect from everyone around him. As is typical with Negro League players, the stories of his meanness have reached a level where they aren’t quite believable. The thing about stories is that if you tell enough of them and they all say the same thing then there has to be some level of truth to them. Maybe Wilson didn’t actually try to kill an umpire in the 1934 Negro National League Championship Series, but I’m apt to believe he was probably mean as all get out towards someone he didn’t believe deserved his respect.
The above being the case, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wilson was highly respected among his teammates but not well liked by the media. The latter helps to explain why his more gregarious contemporaries have become fixtures of Negro League history while Wilson has faded into a distant memory. Understandable as that is, it’s not really fair to the player that was Jud Wilson. He earned the nickname “Boojum” because of the loud sound his doubles made when hitting the outfield fence. Boojum is a man who earned his place in history, and he deserves more of the limelight than he has ever received.
The season that best encapsulates the hard-hitting left-hander’s career took place with the Baltimore Black Sox in 1927. That year Wilson scorched the Eastern Colored League hitting to the tune of a .424/.496/.706 slash line. He was a one-man wrecking crew on a really talented Black Sox squad. His OPS+ of 215 was second in the league, as was his batting average, while he slugged better than anyone else in the 1927 ECL campaign and his 30 doubles almost outpaced second place by double digits. His sWAR (Seamheads) with the Black Sox of 5.2 was also good for second-best in the league.
In 1927 Wilson came to the plate 283 times for the Black Sox. His wOBA in those plate appearances was an amazing .528, almost two hundred points better than the ECL average wOBA of .345. Boojum was by far the best third basemen in the ECL that year. For comparison’s sake, the best wOBA posted by a third baseman in Major League Baseball in 1927 belonged to Pie Traynor of the Pittsburgh Pirates at .380. He didn’t come close to touching Wilson’s number, just as Chuck Dressen’s third basemen-leading fWAR of 4.7 for the Cincinnati Reds fell short of Wilson’s aforementioned sWAR of 5.2. White, black, or anything in between, the best third baseman in baseball in 1927 was Jud Wilson.
The other way that Wilson’s 1927 encapsulates his career is that it has largely been forgotten. The reason for that could have something to do with Wilson’s previously talked about surliness. More than likely it has everything to do with the fact that among all players in the ECL, he wasn’t the best. His 5.2 sWAR finished second to Dick Lundy’s 5.3. That may not seem like a lot, and it really isn’t, but second place is still second place. Throughout his career, that was the tale of Jud Wilson; great, but never the best that year. That’s why when the push came to include the very best the Negro Leagues had to offer in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it took a lot of work for Wilson’s name to be included in the discussion.
Ultimately, Wilson spent his entire career with well-known Negro League teams, and was well thought of by his peers, both factors which pushed him over the edge for a Hall of Fame induction. It never should have been a question though, because in over 23 seasons of professional ball he was one of the best the game had to offer. It didn’t matter if he was playing in the California Winter League, the Negro National League, or the Liga Cubana de Profesional Base Ball. Wilson was among the best corner infielders to ever play the game of baseball. His enshrinement with those considered to be the best was the least that Boojum deserved from a career of greatness.
Sadly, like a lot of Negro League stars, Wilson didn’t end his life as he should have. Instead of dying as a decorated member of the United States Army and one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, he died alone in a mental institution. A few years after retiring from baseball, Wilson began to experience debilitating seizures. The seizures eventually led to his hospitalization and more than likely contributed to his death of a heart attack at the age of 67. He may not have died as he should have, but the memory of the man he was before his death lives on to this day. When the greatest third or first basemen of all-time are being discussed, people need to include the name Jud Wilson. If he’s not a part of the discussion, then you are wasting your time.Next post: Casey at the Bat 2019: A Modern Retelling
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