Harry Wilson

From BR Bullpen

Harry Clayton Wilson

  • Bats Unknown, Throws Unknown
  • Height 5' 8½"

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Biographical Information[edit]

Harry Wilson played only one game for the Baltimore Orioles of the National League in 1898, although he spent a good part of the season with the team as a third-string catcher.

He played for several teams in the Northeast, after making his debut in the Virginia League in 1896, getting time with three different teams. In 1897, he was with the Paterson, NJ team in the Atlantic League. In April of 1898, he was used by the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Eastern League in an exhibition game against the Orioles, catching the eye of Orioles manager Ned Hanlon. The team already had three catchers in Wilbert Robinson, Boileryard Clarke and Frank Bowerman, so Wilson signed with Toronto and later played for a team in London, ON, but he was called to Baltimore in early June when Bowerman was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He did not get into a game until the last week of the season, after the Orioles had been eliminated from pennant contention, playing the second game of a doubleheader on October 12th against the New York Giants. He drew a walk in three plate appearances.

He returned to the minor leagues in 1899, playing for the Hartford team of the Eastern League, and then spending 1900 in the Connecticut State League, where he played for four different teams, after which he left professional baseball, and his trail disappeared. It was difficult to trace him because his shared a name with another professional ballplayer from Baltimore, MD known as "Henry Wilson". The right Harry Wilson was born in Baltimore in 1876, the youngest of five children of plumber John Wilson. However, he does not appear in city directories after 1900. In 1904, he enlisted in the army in New Bedford, MA and joined a cavalry unit, but he deserted less than a year later and was given a dishonorable discharge.

In 1910, he was living with his family and working as a clerk in the family's plumbing store. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, he found employment on a ship carrying troupes, having developed a specialty as a steeplejack, someone who does repairs and maintenance on high and tall structures. His particular ability was painting flagpoles high atop buildings and elsewhere, a particularly dangerous occupation. His work during the war took him to Salonika, in Greece, where he was employed as a painter by the American Bridge Company, getting a job in a war zone after attempting without success to enlist (he had injured his ankle in his line of work, and his previous poor service record must not have helped him either). He returned to the United States in early 1918, continuing his particular line of work in several locations. Later that year, he was arrested in Newport, RI for "transporting liquor into a barred zone", i.e. smuggling booze into a local military base.

Most of his relatives in Baltimore died around that time, starting with his mother in 1916 and his father four years later. His two brothers and two sisters all died between 1922 and 1927, but his name is listed in none of the obituaries. The death of a person with his name was eventually traced in Knoxville, TN in 1929, and given that person's body was shipped back to Baltimore for burial, and his profession on his death notice filled by the hospital was "steeplejack", confirming that this was indeed the ballplayer. The cause of death was pneumonia. Peter Morris was responsible for most of the detective work that pieced the story together.

Further Reading[edit]

  • "Harry Wilson", in Bill Carle, ed.: Biographical Research Committee Report, SABR, May/June 2014, pp. 1-4.

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