It took three years and a position player before Baltimore’s All-Star representative saw game action in the Midsummer Classic.
Third baseman George Kell started the 1956 All-Star Game after pitchers Bob Turley (1954) and Jim Wilson (1955) failed to get on the field the previous two years. Each player was the Orioles‘ lone All-Star for the first three years in Baltimore franchise history. It was the longest stretch of lone representation until the 2000s, when the Orioles went four consecutive seasons (2001-2004) with just one All-Star. Their current streak is five.
Looking back on the Birds’ early years, it would be easy – but inaccurate – to cast Wilson as the least-deserving of the team’s early All-Stars.
Turley won 14 games and led the league in strikeouts for a 1954 team that finished 54-100. He later won a Cy Young award with the Yankees in 1958 and finished second in MVP voting after posting a league-leading 21 wins that season.
Kell, meanwhile, represented the Orioles during the final two seasons of his Hall of Fame career.
And then there’s James Alger Wilson with his 3.7 strikeouts per nine innings and league-worst 18 losses during his All-Star season in Baltimore.
Wilson took a line drive off the bat of Detroit’s Hank Greenberg in 1945. Many concluded his career was over after he struggled mightily for the remainder of the ’40s. However, he regained his form following a stint with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League and ended up in the Braves‘ organization.
Wilson tossed baseball’s only no-hitter in 1954 for Milwaukee but was turned loose by the team the following spring.
The Orioles purchased the 33-year-old pitcher’s contract in 1955, not long after he had declared that he would “rather pitch for Richards than any other manager.”
Baltimore skipper Paul Richards, who managed Wilson with the Rainiers, clearly still believed in his guy as well.
Here’s how a United Press article put it: “Paul Richards admits his last-place Orioles aren’t much of a ball club but he insists he has one of the best pitchers in the league in Jim Wilson, a shop-worn veteran who got a ‘bum’s rush’ in Milwaukee.”
Richards got an immediate return on his $40,000 investment in Wilson.
By mid-July the 6′ 1″, 200-pound righty had seven victories, four of which came against the American League’s top four teams: New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston. Wilson allowed four hits or less in each of those games. He entered the All-Star break with seven complete games, six wins, and a 2.50 ERA.
Overall, Wilson pitched 14 complete games in 1955 and went nine or more innings 12 times. Those totals include two 11-inning complete-game victories and one 12.2-inning loss. Wilson earned four consecutive complete game victories in September.
Kell, representing the O’s, went 1-for-4. Wilson, who had not played in his first two All-Star appearances, allowed two hits and one run in one inning of work during his third and final All-Star Game.
[Note This article appeared on Camden Chat last Thursday.]