Former Hurler, Member Of “12 Black Aces” Earl Wilson Passes Away

By Jason Beck
Updated: April 25, 2005

Earl Wilson

DETROIT — Former Red Sox and Tigers pitcher Earl Wilson, a key starter on Detroit’s 1968 World Series championship club and one of the game’s best power-hitting hurlers, passed away Saturday at age 70.

Wilson was the first black pitcher on the Boston Red Sox when he was called up in the summer of 1959, the same year Pumpsie Green integrated the club. He averaged 12 wins a year for four years in the Red Sox rotation before the Tigers acquired him in June 1966.

His career blossomed in Detroit in tune with the rest of the club in the Tigers’ rise toward championship contention. He won 13 games in just over half a season following the trade, then tied for the American League lead with 22 wins in 1967 as the Tigers fell just short of the league pennant.

Wilson, Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich formed the backbone of the Tigers’ starting rotation in ’68. While McLain earned the attention with 31 victories and Lolich with the heroics with his World Series performance, Wilson was Detroit’s steady performer and one of the pitching staff’s reigning veterans at age 33. His 10 complete games finished second on the team to McLain. He started and lost Game 3 of the World Series that year against St. Louis.

Just as impressive as his arm, however, was his bat. He homered seven times over 88 at-bats in 1968, his second time in three seasons with seven home runs.

For his career, his 35 home runs fell one shy of the American League record for pitchers, held by Wes Ferrell. Wilson also batted .195 with 111 RBIs in 740 career at-bats. He posted a 121-109 record on the mound with a 3.69 ERA, 69 complete games and 13 shutouts.

“He was an imposing figure,” former Tigers catcher and current radio analyst Jim Price joked of the 6-foot-3, 216-pound Wilson. “Nobody ever charged the mound on him. Earl was a guy you could kid with. But when he walked into a room, heads turned, because he was big and good-looking.”

Wilson continued to contribute to baseball after his retirement following the 1970 season. He served as president and CEO of the Baseball Assistance Team before recently becoming vice president. He remained a Detroit resident after his playing career.

The Tigers had a moment of silence prior to their game Monday against the Twins. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.