Don Wilson

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Donald Edward Wilson

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Biographical Information[edit]

Don Wilson was an excellent pitcher whose career ended prematurely due to his tragic death at age 29 in January 1975.

Wilson was signed by the Houston Colt .45's as a free agent in 1964. He was briefly in the minor leagues, and came up to the majors in September 1966, pitching one game for six innings, and getting seven strikeouts.

Wilson was part of a group of talented young Houston players. Joe Morgan was one year older than Wilson, Rusty Staub was also one year older, and Jimmy Wynn was three years older. Larry Dierker was even younger - at age 19, he was already in his third season with Houston.

The team was to gradually get better over Wilson's tenure with them, hitting a peak when they finished in 2nd place in the division in 1972.

Wilson was a power pitcher. He recorded lots of strikeouts, with a top performance of 235 in 225 innings in 1969. He didn't usually give up a lot of hits or walks (he led the league in fewest hits allowed per nine innings in 1971), and as a result his ERA's tended to be good. In 1971, his ERA was third in the league.

He was already in the regular pitching rotation as a rookie in 1967 at age 22, and threw a no-hitter that first year. The next year, 1968, he had a game with 18 strikeouts, tying what was then the record. Two months later, he struck out 16 in a game. In July of that year, a wild Don Drysdale, in a 0-0 game, walked two Houston batters, hit a batter, and then hit Wilson to drive in the only run of the game. In 1969, Wilson threw another no-hitter on the day after Houston had been no-hit by Jim Maloney. In 1971, he became an All Star. In May of 1971, Wilson hit a bunt double. His bunt was toward shortstop, but Larry Bowa, the shortstop, had already started moving toward third base and the ball went past. In 1974, he pitched eight no-hit innings, but was removed from the game at that point for a pinch hitter by manager Preston Gomez with Houston trailing, 2-1.

In January 1975, he was found dead of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning on the passenger seat of his car in his garage. His son Alex, who was sleeping in an upstairs room, also died, but his daughter Denise survived after spending days in a coma.[1] Wilson had been excellent in his previous season, 1974, with a 3.08 ERA. As a comparison, the winningest pitcher on the Astros that year, Tom Griffin, had a 3.54 ERA.

The most similar pitcher to Wilson seems apt - Mario Soto, another fireballer whose career also ended prematurely. Also on the list of most similar pitchers is another tragic Houston story, J.R. Richard, whose career was even a tad shorter in terms of games pitched.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL All-Star (1971)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (1969, 1971 & 1972)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 6 (1968, 1969 & 1971-1974)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (1969)

Further Reading[edit]

  • Matthew M. Clifford: "Houston's Fallen Star: Don Wilson", in Cecilia Tan, ed.: Baseball in the Space Age: Houston since 1961, The National Pastime, SABR, 2014, pp. 60-65.

Related Sites[edit]