Goodbye, Detroit Tigers Catcher Bob ‘Red’ Wilson

To the end, he signed first name and nickname.

Gotta love those 1950s players

Bob “Red” Wilson passed away Aug. 8. He didn’t write me the longest reply in 2010, but it was one of my most memorable returns.
I wasn’t alone. The last check at the ever-reliable www.sportscollectors.net says that Wilson signed 131 out of 135 requests.
The 1950s players are going fast. They feel a special obligation to fans, even those not born when they played. 
Plus, so many from that decade never stopped being fans. Wilson wasn’t big on discussing himself. Ask about Frank Lary or Al Kaline, and he lit up. When you’re writing to the men of the 1950s, don’t forget to ask about the stars they admired.

Meet a Teammate-Fan of Teen Al Kaline!

Bob “Red” Wilson spent the 1950s marveling at his job and his co-workers. Today, he’s still making sense of it all.

For starters, he witnessed the arrival of a teen teammate named Al Kaline, who jumped straight from high school to the majors. When did he get a hunch about future Hall of Fame membership for the Tigers phenom?

Wilson replied:

“He could run, throw and hit and was only 18!”

Wilson’s biggest amazement came over his success versus the New York Yankees. For those 21 matchups, Wilson batted a sizzling .354. He served as “designated” catcher for Frank Lary. Wilson saw his batterymate earn a 16-3 record against the noted rivals, in addition to the nickname “Yankee Killer.”

The former catcher summed up:

“Frank Lary and I had no magic. Things just seemed to happen. We both were competitive and enjoyed playing together.

It was a thrill to play baseball in the American League. While the challenge to do well was always a discomfort, you soon realize that condition is present in any job you take pride in succeeding at!”

To learn more about Wilson’s career, check out the masterful bio by Jim Sargent at the SABR BioProject website.

The one unsolved mystery about Wilson’s 1958 season? Where are his arms? Was he baseball’s first contortionist catcher?

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