Artie, a trim man
with a pencil mustache and a soft tenor voice, and his wife Dorothy put two
children through college, which meant he always had to supplement his income by
playing Caribbean winter ball. "The guys I knew in baseball," Wilson
said. " Luis Tiant's father was on the New York Cubans. Best left-handed
pick-off move I ever saw. Silvio Garcia, an infielder. Durocher said he'd have
been worth a million if he was white. Luke Easter. They spoiled him up in
Cleveland by getting him to pull. If they'd left Easter alone, he'd of hit 'em
450 feet to any field. When I was finishing in the Pacific Coast League, I
played for Charlie Dressen. He was" a sharp one, almost like Durocher. But
not quite. Leo was off there by himself.
with the Giants, Leo came into a Pullman car where a bunch of his players were
shooting craps. Leo took off his jacket, got down on the floor and in half an
hour had every dollar in that Pullman. Then he stood up and told the players,
'You've already been taken to bed. Now it's time for you to go to sleep.'
The memory made
Wilson laugh softly in delight. He grew up in black poverty outside of
Birmingham, but he says neither poverty nor segregation bothered him when he
was a child. "I didn't know nothing else, and I was happy long as I could
get into a game. For a baseball, we'd find an old golf ball somebody had hit
out of bounds. We'd wrap some string around it tight and have our ball. For a
bat, we'd saw down a tree branch. When I needed a buck or two for sneakers, I
"Later I got
a job cutting pipes and playing ball for the Acipco Company, and one day I got
careless in the factory and lost part of my thumb." He showed me his right
hand. The thumb was cut off at the knuckle. "Didn't hurt much and I just
had to adjust my throwing a little. I pitched once in a while. In the colored
leagues you had to play every position. After the accident, I could make my
fastball move better.
Black Barons we had an owner who ran a funeral parlor in Memphis. He paid us
regular. We went from town to town by bus, and I got so I slept better sitting
up in a bus than in a bed. Then Abe Saperstein got the club and took us out
barnstorming, and we won nearly every game we played. When we got to San
Francisco, Abe wanted to take us to DiMaggio's Restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf.
Then he got the word. A colored ball team wasn't welcome. I think that got me
as mad as anything ever did."
slowly. First Robinson. Then Larry Doby. Then Dan Bankhead. It was 1960 before
the majors were truly open.
years you were excluded from organized ball?" I asked.
thinking now, not then. Then, like I say, I was just happy to be a professional
baseball player anywhere."
Wilson drove me
about Portland, soft-selling his Cordoba, pointing out the Civic Stadium, where
the Portland Timbers were playing soccer, and the Columbia River, crowded not
with salmon but with freighters. "Rains a lot here and it's cool, but it's
been my home for 22 years now," he said. "You have any plans for