Sunday, July 21, 2013

IN MEMORIAM- PART III: DON WILSON

For those not familiar with this thread, my "In Memoriam" series are card profiles of players who died while still active in the Major Leagues during the decade of the '70's. Some of these men actually had cards issued of them after their death, while for others who did not, I designed a memorial card using the following season's design as a tribute "capper" if you will.
Today's memorial is about Don Wilson, former Astros fireballing pitcher.
In a short nine year career for the Houston Astros (with one "year" encompassing one appearance in his debut), Wilson made a name for himself as a power pitcher who put up some solid numbers before tragedy struck before the 1975 season.
Making his Major League debut at the end of the 1966 season, Wilson went on to post a very nice career 3.15 E.R.A. while winning 104 games against 92 losses. 1971 was perhaps his most successful season, being named to the N.L. All-star team for the only time in his career with a 16-10 record, 2.45 E.R.A. and 180 strikeouts in a career-high 268 innings.
Of course, Wilson's lasting mark on the game were his two no-hitters, both against good teams.
On June 18th, 1967 he threw a 2-0 gem against the Atlanta Braves at the Astrodome, where he struck out 15 batters. As a matter of fact he struck out Hank Aaron for the final out. Then on May 1st of 1969 (just a week before I entered the world I might add), he no-hit the Cincinnati Reds 4-0 a day after Jim Maloney of the Reds no-hit the Astros! Only the second time that ever happened where there were back to back no-hitters by opposing teams against each other. Sandwiched in between these two no-no's was Wilson's team record 18-strikeout performance against the Reds on July 14th, 1968 where he won, 6-1. That is still the Astros team record for K's in a game, even with guys like J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott and Roger Clemens taking the mound as members of the Houston organization since.
Incredibly enough, Wilson almost had a THIRD no-hitter, when he was no-hitting the Reds (again) after eight innings on September 4th of 1974 before he was PULLED FOR A PINCH-HITTER in the ninth inning, since his team was down 2-1!
Can you even imagine that today? Sadly, that was to be one of his last Major League games.
Tragically, on January 5th of 1975 Wilson accidentally died at his Houston home along with his son, an accident that also caused his wife and daughter to be hospitalized.
The Astros retired his number "40" in April of that year, while also honoring him on the "Wall of Honor" at Minute Maid Park when it opened years later.
Topps had already understandably produced their cards for the upcoming 1975 season when the Wilson accident occurred, so he was included in the set (#455) after he passed away.
I have taken his existing card and added a "Memoriam" strip in remembrance of the Astro fireballer.
February 12, 1945- January 5th, 1975.

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