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Jack Wilson (wilsoja02)

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Jack Eugene Wilson

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[edit] Biographical Information

Jack Wilson is the light-hitting, free-swinging shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is the younger brother of Andy Wilson

Wilson hit .581 in 1995, leading California high schoolers. He played in a summer league as the second baseman next to SS Freddy Sanchez, a future major-league teammate. Jack went on to junior college, after which he was picked in the 9th round of the 1998 amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. They assigned him to the Johnson City Cardinals, where he batted .373/~.417/.531 and stole 22 in 28 tries. He won the Appalachian League batting title with a late rush to bypass Paul Day. He made the Appy League All-Star team. Despite being successful as a switch-hitter, he never was used in that role again.

Jack split 1999 between the Peoria Chiefs (.343/~.380/.498) and the Potomac Cannons (.296/~.344/.366). He spent the fall with the Lancaster Stealth of the California Fall League, playing a supporting role on the championship club. He impressed manager Lloyd McClendon, though, a major element in his career path.

Jack hit .277/.340/.447 in 13 games with Potomac in 2000 then the 22-year-old moved up to the Arkansas Travelers, where he batted .294/.368/.452. Baseball America named him the best defensive shortstop in the Texas League. On July 29, St. Louis dealt him to the Pirates for Jason Christiansen. Assigned to the Altoona Curve, Wilson batted .252/.325/.353, worse than his predecessor at short there, Luis Figueroa.

Thankfully for Wilson, Pittsburgh had a weak incumbent at short with Pat Meares and the team was now managed by his old supporter, McClendon, who had encouraged Pittsburgh to acquire him. Jack was handed the starting job for the 2001 Pirates despite no experience at AAA and a mediocre performance at AA. Wilson went just 9 for 58 and was demoted to the Nashville Sounds, where he hit .369/.430/.476 in 27 games. Returning to Pittsburgh, Wilson finished the year with a .223/.255/.295 line and fought with Peter Bergeron for the worst offensive season by a major-league regular; he had just a 42 OPS+. His 17 sacrifice bunts tied Tom Glavine and Ricky Gutierrez for the MLB lead. The free-swinger once went 161 consecutive plate appearances without a walk that year. Despite his poor performance, he became popular with many Pittsburgh fans for his hustle.

Wilson remained an everyday player with the 2002 Pirates and "improved" to a .252/.306/.332 line. He had eight successful bunt hits and led the 2002 NL with 17 sacrifice hits. He also had his first son, probably the highlight of the year. In 2003, the Californian kid hit .256/.303/.353.

In 2004, he had a season totally out of line with the rest of his career. He produced at a .308/.335/.459 line and scored 82 runs, while driving in 59. His OPS+ was 107, far above any other year. He broke Gene Alley's 38-year-old club record for double plays with 128. He tied Jimmy Rollins for the 2004 NL lead with 12 triples. He hit 41 doubles and 11 homers. He was the first Pirate with 200 hits since Dave Parker 27 years earlier and the 9th NL shortstop ever with 200 hits in a year. He legged out 29 infield hits. The popular player parlayed it into a 2-year, $8 million contract from Dave Littlefield. Two things that should be noted are that Wilson was still not much above league average in offense despite a career year and that he was reverting to form in the second half with a .279/.313/.407 line after his uncharacteristic .332/.354/.501 first half. He made the NL All-Star team and was 0 for 2 as the backup to Edgar Renteria in the 2004 All-Star Game. He won the Silver Slugger Award at short. He was part of the 2004 Nichi-Bei Series.

On December 21, Wilson went to a California hospital with severe abdominal pain. He was forced to wait in the emergency room for hours, during which time his appendix burst. He was in the hospital for several days, was bedridden for two weeks and missed the opening part of spring training; never large, he lost 15 pounds during the ordeal. He took legal action against the hospital and blamed the incident for his poor performance in 2005 - even though that was totally in line with his pre-2004 work, as he hit .257/.299/.363. He did finish second to Omar Vizquel in Gold Glove Award voting and he led all major league shortstops in assists (523), total chances (783) and double plays (126), showing his glovework did not slump.

In a reverse of 2005, Jack put on weight in the 2006 off-season. He said it was all muscle and would not effect his speed or defense. He did hit five home runs in April, breaking the club record for a shortstop held previously by Jay Bell and Kevin Elster but finished the year with his usual 8 HR and a .273/.316/.370 line that was nearly identical to his career average to that point. Wilson this time claimed that his performance was due to the extra weight. His added weight did seem to affect his defensive performance and he set a career high with 18 errors while many observers noted a decline in the Pirates' middle infield defense (Jose Castillo took most of the blame but Wilson did not escape unscathed). That year, he was elected into the Lancaster JetHawks Hall of Fame in 2006 even though he never played for the team. He had been on the Lancaster Stealth in '99 but had not been one of the club's big stars.

Wilson won the Chuck Tanner Award from the local BBWAA members due to his openness with the media and willingness to be interviewed. Wilson has also been active with the Westmoreland County Tobacco Free Coalition. Due to his accessibility, hustle and charitable work, he has often been free of the criticism given to other players who had similar levels of performance on the playing field. For instance, Craig Wilson had a much better track record in Pittsburgh and had the same hot start and slow finish in 2004, yet was repeatedly criticized for his strikeout frequency and supposed flaws in his swing which pitchers exploited in the second half of 2004, while Jack Wilson did not face the same claims. The media has meekly reported Wilson's excuses for his poor performance without critically analyzing them.

In January of 2007, Jack decided to publicly criticize double-play mate José Castillo during PirateFest, when other players were trying to provide positive PR for the upcoming season. Wilson said that in his mind, Freddy Sanchez was his second baseman and the only player he trusted 100% in that role and he said that there "would be problems" if Castillo didn't produce more and lose some weight. Wilson's supporters in the media spun the remarks as an example of "leadership" though some fans criticized Jack for airing dirty laundry in public, for trying to dictate who would be his second baseman and for criticizing a player who had done better than Wilson over the prior two seasons.

Wilson again ran afoul of other individuals on the Pirates payroll during the regular season, complaining loudly when he was benched for several games in favor of Castillo and then having a shouting match with coach Jim Colborn on July 16 after Wilson made a 2-base error on a leaping catch when two outfielders had a better shot at the ball. There was much discussion of Wilson being traded after Pittsburgh acquired Cesar Izturis, but few teams wanted to take on Wilson's salary. The Detroit Tigers showed the most interest but no deal was reached before the trading deadline. Wilson hit .407 from July 31 through September 10, 2007, and hit .615/.621/1.077 in the first week of September with 6 doubles, 28 bases, 16 hits and 11 RBI. He easily won the NL Player of the Week award with the uncharacteristic display.

Wilson missed most of April and May of 2008 with a left calf strain. Brian Bixler, Luis Rivas and Chris Gomez took his spot at short; only Gomez hit well and only Bixler drew some praise from management for his glovework. Wilson hit 9th for Pittsburgh on June 30, becoming the first position player to bat 9th in a non-interleague game for Pittsburgh since Bill Mazeroski in April of 1957. Wilson went 1 for 3. Wilson finished the year at .272/.312/.348 for a 77 OPS+, back towards his old level of play.

On Opening Day 2009, Wilson provided the game-winning hit. With two outs in the 9th inning, the bases loaded and a 4-3 deficit, Wilson doubled off Jason Motte on a 2-strike pitch to clear the bases. Wilson once again battled injuries and produced minimal offense (.267/.304/.387 in 75 games). He was then traded to the Seattle Mariners with Ian Snell in exchange for Jeff Clement, Aaron Pribanic, Nathan Adcock, Ronny Cedeno and Brett Lorin.

Sources include 1999-2002 Baseball Almanacs, "Compared to Big Ben, Wilson was unlucky" by Dejan Kovacevic in the September 5, 2006 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, other Post-Gazette articles, unofficial Pirates e-mail list, mlb.com

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL All-Star (2004)
  • NL Silver Slugger Award Winner (2004)
  • NL Triples Leader (2004)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (2004)

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