- Born: December 22, 1958 in Baytown, Texas
- Bats: Right Throws: Right
- Height: 6′ 1″ Weight: 190 lbs.
- Acquired: Drafted by the Tigers in the 1st round (18th pick) of the 1980 amateur draft.
- Seasons in Detroit: 2 (1982-83)
- Uniform Number: 12
- Stats: .278 avg., 23 HR, 99 RBI, .739 OPS
Twenty-seven years ago this past March, the Tigers orchestrated the trade that all but secured their 1984 World Series championship.
In case you’ve forgotten, on March 24 that year, the Tigers sent Glenn Wilson and catcher/first baseman extraordinaire John Wockenfuss to the Phillies for lefty reliever Willie Hernandez and first baseman Dave Bergman.
Certainly it worked out well that year, but I was disappointed that the Tigers traded one of my favorite players –Wilson – and one that Tigers many fans loved for his versatility, his name and his funky batting stance, Wockenfuss.
But back to the beginning.
Wilson made his major-league debut for the Tigers on Opening Day in Detroit against the Blue Jays on April 15, 1982. A rash of injuries to Tigers regulars — Eddie Miller (!) and Rick Leach — led the club to recall the 23-year-old Wilson and Howard Johnson from Triple-A Evansville.
“I was with the Tigers, not on the roster, during spring training,” Wilson told Tom Loomis of the Toledo Blade. “I never expected to be up here this year. I figured what I had to do was work hard down there and I’d get a good shot at the majors next year.”
Catching Louisiana Lightning
Wilson collected his first major-league hit the next day against one of the toughest pitchers of that era: Ron Guidry. The Yankees were pummeling the Tigers and starter Pat Underwood at Tiger Stadium 10-2 when Wilson led off the ninth with a double to left center off Guidry, who would quickly retire the next three hitters in order. The Tigers sent Wilson back to Evansville in early May, but he returned by mid-July.
Just two years earlier Wilson was a Tigers first-round pick, 18th overall, out of Sam Houston State University in Texas. The club assigned him to Double-A Montgomery Rebels of the Southern League where he hit .264 with 7 home runs in 77 games.
In 1981, he spent most of the year with the Rebels (where he hit .306 with 18 homers and 82 RBI) but after before being promoted to Triple-A Evansville for 10 games.
The following year Wilson began the season with the Triplets and was tearing the cover off the ball leading to his promotion to Detroit in time for the Tigers’ home opener.
Wilson made the most of his opportunity, hitting .467 in his first six games, and flashing the leather in the outfield. Thanks to his hot start, he stuck with the Tigers until early May when he was sent back to Evansville.
Late in that season, on Sept. 21, Wilson and the Tigers had a scare when the outfielder collapsed during batting practice in Baltimore. According to an AP story, X-rays taken at Union Memorial Hospital showed a possible broken vertebra.
A Tigers spokesman said Wilson was suffering from severe pain of the lower back. Apparently it was nothing serious because on Sept. 29 he returned to the lineup against the Orioles in Detroit and went 1 for 4.
Wilson played in 84 big-league games that season, 80 of them in centerfield and finished at .292 with 12 home runs and was named Tigers Rookie of the Year by the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.
Solid, If Unspectacular, Sophomore Season
In 1983 the Tigers were depending on Wilson to maintain the pace he began in his rookie season. In spring training, though, he spooked the Tigers again when in a late-March game agains the Pirates he dove for a ball off the bat of Lee Lacy, injuring his shoulder. X-rays were negative and he was in the Opening Day starting lineup on April 5 against the Twins. The Tigers rolled to an 11-3 win at the Metrodome.
His sophomore season saw Wilson shift from centerfield to right, allowing Chet Lemon to take over his natural position. Wilson appeared in 144 games in ’83 and hit .268 with 11 HR and 64 RBI.
From all accounts, the Tigers saw him as a key piece of the puzzle heading into 1984. But the Tigers were determined to make Kirk Gibson their regular rightfielder in ’84 which complicated the outfield picture and likely meant Wilson was a man without a position.
Sparky Anderson, who was always looking for a reliable offensive force at third base (even though he had a young Howard Johnson on the roster), decided Wilson might be the answer at third. But the experiment didn’t last long as the Tigers’ skipper saw that he could get by with Tom Brookens and Johnson at third, but needed reinforcements at the back end of the bullpen.
A Fresh Start in Philadelphia
On March 24, the Tigers made the move that cinched them a World Series title when they sent Wilson and Wockenfuss to the Phillies for Hernandez and Bergman.
The Toledo Blade’s Loomis reported on the players’ reactions to the trade. Wockenfuss was visibly shaken and disappointed to be leaving a team he’d been part of for a decade.
It apparently was not all that difficult for Glenn Wilson.
The 25-year-old outfielder, whose right-field job was taken away by Anderson and handed to Kirk Gibson, has been unhappy with his aborted trial at third base.
“I’m tickled to death with this,” Glenn drawled. “I feel I’m going to get the opportunity to play in Philadelphia – and that’s the only thing I wanted in this game.” He was packing at the time. “Hey,” he yelled in the clubhouse, “anyone want to buy a black and orange shoe?”
Wilson spent four seasons with the Phillies and was named to the National League All-Star team in 1985. He finished the season with a .275 average, 14 home runs and 102 RBI.
Bouncing Around the Bigs
The Phillies traded Wilson to the Mariners after the 1987 season but he’d only play 78 games in Seattle before being shipped back to Pennsylvania during the ’88 campaign – but this time to Pittsburgh.
About a year later, in August of 1989, the Pirates traded Wilson to his hometown Astros where he’d post two solid seasons. After the 1990 season he signed with the Braves spent the ’91 season with Triple-A Richmond, where he hit .270 in 29 games.
Wilson fell off the major-league map for the next two seasons before reappearing for the Pirates, albeit for 10 games, in 1993. He appeared in his final major-league game on June 14, 1993 at St. Louis when in the fourth inning he replaced Andy Van Slyke in centerfield.
The 34-year-old was sent back to Triple-A Buffalo shortly thereafter and according to this, he was none too pleased about it:
Baseball people refer to a brief trip to the major leagues as a cup of coffee. Glenn Wilson’s most recent call-up amounted to a sip – and it left a bad taste in his mouth.
“Being called up and getting sent back after only 14 at bats, that didn’t sit well,” Wilson said. “When you get teased like I got teased, I don’t care who it is, you’re going to be bitter if you’re not the guy they want.”
Wilson wasn’t the guy the Pittsburgh Pirates wanted, at least not this season. He was the guy they wanted in 1988, when they traded Darnell Coles to the Seattle Mariners to get him.
But that was five seasons ago, when Wilson was coming off four solid seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies.
I’m sure that attitude sat well with the Pirates’ brass, including manager Jim Leyland.
The 1993 season was Wilson’s last in professional baseball. His final line with Buffalo: .279 avg., 12 HR and 43 RBI in 61 games.
Perhaps it didn’t end the way he wanted, but Glenn Wilson had a solid 10-year major-league career. His place in Tigers lore is set, though only as a player traded away on the eve of a magical season.
I for one enjoyed watching him play in Detroit and wish he’d hung around a bit longer.
Glenn Wilson’s Career Stats
|162 Game Avg.||162||560||148||13||70||.265||.306||.398||.704|
|PHI (4 yrs)||602||2102||557||49||271||.265||.307||.401||.708|
|PIT (3 yrs)||147||470||129||11||64||.274||.323||.421||.744|
|HOU (2 yrs)||146||470||112||12||70||.238||.284||.357||.641|
|DET (2 yrs)||228||825||229||23||99||.278||.312||.427||.739|
|SEA (1 yr)||78||284||71||3||17||.250||.286||.324||.610|
|NL (8 yrs)||895||3042||798||72||405||.262||.306||.397||.703|
|AL (3 yrs)||306||1109||300||26||116||.271||.305||.400||.706|