With another Super Bowl passed, it is officially time for fantasy maniacs to begin preparing for the upcoming baseball season. There are numbers to be analyzed and draft strategies to be formulated.
So in this spirit I would like to ask you, the dear reader, to compare the following stat lines:
Player One .326 BA 17 HR 83 RBI 118 Runs
Player Two .357 BA 37 HR 116 RBI 100 Runs
Player Three .356 BA 56 HR 191 RBI 146 Runs
Dustin Pedroia, the young second base phenom of the Boston Red Sox, is Player One. Player Two is the St. Louis uber slugger, Albert Pujols. These were the numbers that earned both the honor of being named the Most Valuable Player of their respective leagues last year.
The third line of stats belong to Lewis Robert Wilson in 1930. More affectionately known as "Hack," that year he had one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of baseball.
Born on April 26, 1900 in a small steel mining town in Pennsylvania. Wilson began his major league career with the New York Giants. Fans were bowled over by his unusual frame. Wilson was 5'6" tall and had size six feet, but weighed 195 pounds.
After three somewhat mediocre seasons with the Giants, he was released by New York and signed with the Chicago Cubs.
In the Windy City, Hack quickly established himself as one of the premier hitters in baseball. He also gained a reputation for himself off the field. The only talent Wilson had that could match his magic in the batter's box was the ability to consume enough alcohol to cause Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, to become jealous.
Wilson had been known to say that he never played a game drunk, he was merely hungover. Through headaches and bloodshot eyes Hack somehow collected 191 runs batted in (RBI) in one season, a baseball record which will stand forever.
In the year 1930, the Twinkie was invented, the first World Cup was played, and the ground rule double was born. Furthermore, that year saw the live ball era come to full fruition.
A decade prior, baseball was mired in the dead ball period. It was named so because of the condition the baseball was in by the end of a game. At the time, a ball was extremely expensive, so the same one was used as long as possible. Fans had to throw foul balls back onto the field. After nine innings the baseball would be dented and covered in dirt and tobacco juice.
Under these circumstances it became very hard for batters to identify the location of pitches, especially late in the game. One player, Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, died because he was beaned in the head by a pitch he never saw coming.
As a result, a new rule was instituted requiring the umpires to replace the ball every time it got dirty, thusly also outlawing the spitball. The scales immediately tipped in favor of the batter and baseball entered the live ball era.
This in turn allowed Hack Wilson to set the bar so high for single season RBI that his mark will forever be unattainable. In fact, no one has come within 20 RBI of the record since Lou Gehrig in 1938.
What is amazing is Wilson never hit a grand slam in 1930.
What is more astonishing is that until 10 years ago, Wilson was credited for 190 RBI. However, a baseball historian discovered that Hack was responsible for one more batted in run, raising his total to 191.
During Wilson's once in a millennium season he also hit a National League best 56 home runs. This number stood until the juiced up race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998.
Even though Hack Wilson rapidly became one of baseball's elite, his plummet into obscurity was twice as fast. In 1931, his average dropped 95 points to .261. He also only hit 13 home runs and 61 RBI.
Although his numbers rebounded the next year, disagreements with his new manager and an ever growing dependence on alcohol caused Wilson to be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was immediately shipped to the Brooklyn Dodgers without ever stepping on the field as a Redbird.
Four short years later, Wilson found himself out of the major leagues and working in a military defense factory. After that, he took odd jobs as a groundskeeper and a public pool manager. Wilson died at age 48 from internal hemorrhaging believed to be due to his alcoholism.
The career of Hack Wilson lasted a mere twelve seasons, a major factor why the Baseball Writers' Association of America never inducted him into the Hall of Fame. However, the Veterans' Committee, the other deciding body in charge of immortalizing a baseball player, voted in 1979 to include Wilson in Cooperstown.