Golden Baseball Magazine

Post-Season Surprises

This feature discusses players who unexpectedly played key roles in the World Series or other post-season play .
Jimmie Wilson - 1940
Jimmie Wilson never expected to play in the 1940 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds against the Detroit Tigers.
  • He began his major league career as a catcher with the Phillies in 1923 and continued with the Cardinals following a trade during the '28 campaign.
  • He participated in three World Series with St. Louis - 1928, '30, and '31.
  • Considered an outstanding defensive C, his main claim to fame was starting behind the plate for the National League in the first All-Star Game in 1933.
  • From 1934-38, he served as player-manager of the Phillies. His number of games dropped in those years from a high of 93 to just 39 in '37 and a mere three in '38.
  • When Philadelphia fired him as manager, the Reds hired him as a coach. He also served as an emergency backstop, appearing in four games in '39 as the Reds gave him the fourth pennan of his career.

Cincinnati didn't need Wilson behind the plate because that position was manned by big Ernie Lombardi, a future Hall of Famer.

  • "Schnozz" (so-called because of his big nose) hit .319 and drove in 74 runs during the 1940 season. However, at age 32, Lombardi was in and out of the lineup with finger and ankle injuries.
  • The backup C, Willard Hershberger, appeared in 48 games. But a tragedy removed him from the roster. On August 2, Hershberger took his own life at a hotel in Boston where the Reds were playing the Braves.
  • Lombardi came back in with some help from rookie Bill Baker. However, Ernie badly sprained his ankle September 15 and didn't play again during the regular season. Rather than turn to the newcomer during the pennant race, manager Bill McKechnie activated 41-year-old Wilson, who caught the final 16 games.
  • Still, Jimmie figured he'd enjoy the Series from the bench since Lombardi would surely be healed enough to resume his role behind the plate for the Fall Classic. But he was wrong.

With Lombardi still limping and available only for spot duty, Wilson started six of the seven games of the Series despite having two charlie horses himself.

  • Jimmie handled the pitching staff as well or better than Ernie would have. The Reds pitchers compiled a 3.05 ERA against the heavy-hitting Tigers, who had led the American League with 5.7 runs per game.
  • Wilson also contributed at the plate. He cracked seven hits in 16 at-bats for a .353 average.
  • In Game 2 after Detroit took the opener, Jimmie started a two-run rally in the bottom of the 2nd with a single as the Reds evened the Series.
  • Lombardi caught Game 3, going 1-for-3. But two games in a row was too much for him, so Wilson resumed the catching duties the rest of the Series.
  • Jimmie scored his other Series run in Game 6, which the Reds had to win to avoid elimination. He singled in the 6th and came home on a fielder's choice for Cincy's third run in the 4-0 victory.
  • In Game 7, he singled in the 2nd inning, then surprised everyone by pulling off the only stolen base of the Series. With the scored tied 1-1 in the 7th, Jimmie sacrificed the go-ahead runner to 3rd, from where he scored on a deep fly. Ace Paul Derringer made the run stand up as the Reds won their first Fall Classic since the tainted 1919 victory over the Chicago Black Sox.
    Dan Daniel called Wilson the hero of the Series in the December issue of Baseball Magazine:
    "The biggest break the Reds got came when Lombardi hurt his ankle. In place of Schnozz, the Reds got the greatest catcher for those six games. Crafty, wise, calculating, instilling marvelous confidence in his pitchers, calling the turn on the Tigers hitters in many vital spots - he, James Wilson, was the true hero. Every day he went from the game to an Epsom salt bath. Every day he had to be pasted together with bandages and adhesive, so he could go out and catch that game. The spirit of the Reds was this grand fellow named Wilson. The very spirit of the World Series."

Wilson never played in another major league game although he did manage the Cubs for the 1941, '42, and '43 seasons.

Reference: Echoes of Cincinnati Reds Baseball: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, edited by Mark Stallard (2007)

Jimmie Wilson

Ernie Lombardi

Bill Baker

Bill McKechnie