Earl Wilson was the last of a breed — a pitcher who could hit. In addition to winning 121 games across a dozen major-league seasons with Boston, the Detroit Tigers, and San Diego (including a league-high 22 victories in 1967), he belted 35 home runs, including a couple as a pinch-hitter. Only a handful of pitchers hit more during their career.
Wilson’s ability to swat the ball into the seats won himself some games and plenty of admirers. The popular Tiger always counted a walk-off blast at Tiger Stadium as among his top two or three memories. It was in 1966, against Baltimore’s Stu Miller, and “it was around the 12th or 13th inning, and they put me in to pinch-hit, and I hit a home run that won the game,” Wilson recalled in an interview a few years before his death in 2005.
Michigan and Trumbull was a special address for the strapping Louisiana native. His first start in the big leagues was at Briggs Stadium, in 1959, as a rookie righty for the Boston Red Sox. In 1967, by now pitching for the Tigers, he won his 20th game at Tiger Stadium. “I always said that if I was ever traded, I wanted it to be to Detroit,” he said.
“Just the whole atmosphere around the park was special,” said Wilson, who was traded from the Red Sox to the Tigers midway through the ’66 season. “I came into a winning situation, as opposed to when I was in Boston, where it was just playing the game and getting out. But, oh, I remember too, that old stadium could be cold even in July.
“The thing about Tiger Stadium was the fans,” he continued. “Even when you go to places like New York, which is supposed to have the biggest fan base, you don’t get any better fans than Detroit’s.” Although he hadn’t pitched in decades, at the time of his death, people around town still recognized the 70-year-old Wilson, which he found “amazing.”
At Tiger Stadium, he said, “the fans were close enough to get involved. They could see your face, and you could hear ‘em. The worst thing you could do back then was pitch the second game of a doubleheader in July and give the fans a chance to drink that beer and you’re not doing very well.
“That’s when you could really hear ‘em.”