Best known for being the graybeard the Reds called out of semi-retirement in 1940 to catch their World Series bound club, Jimmie “Ace” Wilson was one of the top catchers in the National League during the high-powered 1930s. Always in the shadow of Cubs legend Gabby Hartnett, Ace was a terrific catcher/leader who retired with a 45% caught-stealing rate.
Wilson made his Major League debut in 1923 for the last-place Phillies. He platooned behind the dish a number of years with the high average hitting Butch Henline, but got into enough games in 1924 to finish as Hartnett’s runner-up in homeruns among NL receivers. The following year Ace outhit Henline, and every other senior circuit backstop for that matter, by stroking the onion at a .328 clip. A good hitter with a decent batting eye, Jimmie also flashed a nifty .390 on-base percentage.
Ace’s batting average fell to .305 in 1926 as he continued his platoon with Henline. But in 1927, Henline was sent packing and the everyday catching chore fell to Jimmie. For Stuffy McInnis’ last place Phillies, Wilson was the lone catcher in the Major Leagues to steal over ten bases. Catching was a rough assignment, even in the late 1920s, and Jimmie was one of just two NL catchers (Hartnett being the other, of course) to reach 100 base hits.
Wilson went from worst to first in 1928, not because the Phillies miraculously learned how to play baseball, but because he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals where he caught Hall of Famers Grover Cleveland Alexander and Jesse Haines. Traded for another fine catcher, Spud Davis, Wilson guided the Redbirds to the Fall Classic where they were beaten by the powerful Yankees.
With Gabby Hartnett out with an injury in 1929, Wilson became the top NL catcher overnight. That season he paced senior circuit catchers in batting average, slugging average, hits, doubles and RBI. Jimmie drove in 71 runs that year–he was the only backstop in the NL to eclipse 50 RBI. The following year Ace and the Cardinals returned to the Fall Classic but were beat by Connie Mack’s Athletics. The Redbirds got their revenge the following year, when, guided by the hustle of Pepper Martin, they beat Mack’s last Philadelphia dynasty and captured the 1931 flag.
Wilson caught his share of good pitchers in his day, but none better than Dizzy Dean. In 1932, the eccentric Dean led the league in strikeouts while firing his bullets to the awaiting mitt of Jimmie Wilson. After the 1933 season, when Jimmie made his first All-Star team, he was traded back to the Phillies, for Spud Davis once again. The Phillies named Wilson their player/manager in 1934 and from that moment on he was never again a regular.
His first few seasons back in Philadelphia, Wilson the skipper platooned Wilson the catcher with Al Todd and Earl Grace. The Phillies were a lackluster team when he played for them in the 1920s and they weren’t any better when he managed them in the 1930s. Relieved of his duties in 1938, Jimmie joined the Reds where he served as a coach and emergency catcher. Emergency struck in 1940 that forced Ace to catch in the World Series.
Jimmie’s last day in the sun came during the 1940 World Series. The Reds were in a bit of a bind with Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi injured and his chief backup, Willard Hershberger, taking his life during the pennant drive. The Reds had third-string catcher Bill Baker, a young, virtually untried backstop, and the old coach Jimmie Wilson going into the Series against the powerful Tigers of Greenberg and Gehringer. Wilson proved to be the Series hero, catching six games, hitting .353 and guiding the Reds talented mound corps of Walters, Derringer and Vander Meer. The Reds were victorious in seven games and Ace ended his playing days the unlikeliest of heroes.
G 1,525/R 580/H 1,358/2B 252/3B 32/HR 32/RBI 621/SB 86/BB 356/SO 280/BA .284/SA .370/OBP .336