Al “Red” Wingo: The Tigers’ ultimate one-year batting wonder

Detroit Tigers' outfielders Al "Red" Wingo and Harry Heilmann in 1927.

Detroit Tigers’ outfielders Al “Red” Wingo and Harry Heilmann take a look at their primary instrument of vocation, a baseball bat, in 1927.

The 1925 Detroit Tigers’ outfield was one of the best of all time, offensively speaking. It is the only one in major league history in which every member hit at least .370. It featured two future Hall of Famers: right fielder Harry Heilmann’s .393 garnered him his fourth American League batting crown; center field belonged to 38-year-old Ty Cobb, still able to smack the ball at a .378 clip.
So who was the left fielder?

If the name Red Wingo doesn’t ring a bell for you, you’re not alone. He is one of the game’s great one-year wonders.

Born Absalom Holbrook Wingo on May 6, 1898, he was, like Cobb, a Georgian. His brother Ivey, eight years his senior, had a long career as a catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds (He was actually the team’s backstop in the infamous 1919 World Series, when Cincinnati defeated the “Black Sox.”). Absalom had red hair, so, naturally he acquired the nickname “Red.” He grew up playing baseball on local town teams, before attending Georgia Military College for two years. Then it was off to Atlanta, where he spent a couple of semesters at Oglethorpe University.

In 1918, he signed his first professional contract, as a pitcher, with the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association. Wingo bombed in his only two appearances on the mound for Atlanta (both losses), giving up 23 hits and six walks in 14 innings. But he also appeared in 30 games as an outfielder, hitting .252.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy soon after, but by 1919 he received his discharge, and was back in pro ball, this time with the Greenville Spinners of the South Atlantic League. After a few more unimpressive games as a pitcher, the team converted him to the outfield on a permanent basis. In September, 1919, Wingo received a call-up by the Philadelphia Athletics, managed by the great Connie Mack. In 15 games, he hit .305.

Wingo spent the next five seasons back in the minors, with Atlanta, Greenville, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He hit over .300 four times, and showed plenty of extra-base power.

Just before the 1924 season got underway, Wingo was purchased by the Detroit Tigers for $50,000. Now 27, he was no longer young by baseball standards. In part-time duty that summer, he hit a solid .287.

It was not until the following year, however, that Wingo made his mark.

Finally getting a chance to play every day, Wingo put together a truly fine season at the plate in 1925 for manager Ty Cobb. In 130 games, he batted .370, and scored 103 runs, while also drawing 69 walks for an OBP of .456. Utilizing a short, line-drive swing, Red struck out only 31 times. Wingo showed decent pop, with 34 doubles and 10 triples, but his five home runs were less than ideal for a left-handed-hitting corner outfielder (As a team, the Tigers hit 50 home runs in 1925; only Boston and Chicago hit fewer in the American League.)

Wingo spent only three more seasons in the majors, all with Detroit. He never again played more than 108 games, or batted higher than .285, often finding himself part of a platoon or as the Tigs’ #4 outfielder. Whether it was his lack of power, or his defensive liabilities (he committed 14 errors in the outfield in 1926), Wingo failed to stick with the Tigers. The 1920s saw a lot of hard-hitting outfielders come and go in the big leagues, in many ways they were a dime a dozen, and Wingo was just one more flychaser who was expendable. The Tigers’ roster was stocked year after year with outfielders who could hit in excess of .330 — in addition to Heilmann, there was Heinie Manush, Bob “Fats’ Fothergill, and others. Following the 1928 season, Red was traded, along with cash, to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League, for left fielder Roy Johnson, an outfielder who promptly hit over .300 in his rookie seasons for the Bengals.

For the next several years, Wingo became a minor league nomad, suiting up for the Seals, the Chattanooga Lookouts, and the Scranton Miners, before finally finishing his career with another stop in Toronto. Wingo was a lifetime .320 hitter in 10 minor league campaigns, with 1,457 hits and 146 home runs.

After baseball, Wingo decided to make his home in Detroit. With the help of Walter Briggs, who took ownership of the Tigers following the ’35 season, Wingo at some point landed a job at the Ford Motor Company. He worked there for years, until his death on October 9, 1964. According to his obituary in The Sporting News, Wingo was killed “when a truck he was driving was struck from behind by an automobile at an expressway entrance. Wingo, 66 years old, was thrown from the cab of the truck and was crushed under its wheels.” He died within a few days of the accident.

Wingo and his wife, Grace, had two sons who played minor league ball, but neither made it to the major league level.

One reply on “Al “Red” Wingo: The Tigers’ ultimate one-year batting wonder

  • John Ivey wingo

    I’m Red Wingo’s grandson. First of all thank you for your very accurate account of Reds playing days. He was a very loving and caring man. A true patriarch in our family. We lived together in our home in Detroit. I still remember the night he was killed vividly. He was to retire from Fords in a month. Again Thank you

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