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Remembering Jack Wilson

Likely waiting tastefully until the Talk Like a Pirate Day celebrations were in the rear view mirror, longtime Pittsburgh (and short-time Seattle and Atlanta) shortstop Jack Wilson, who was released by Atlanta back in August, is reportedly going to retire after the season. The first thing I think of when I think of Jack Wilson is how I used to always get him mixed up with former teammate catcher/outfielder/first baseman Craig Wilson. Remember when the “Wilson Brothers” and Jason Bay were part of a future Pirates contender? Good thing those miserable days are over. HOKA HEY.

Anyway, Jack Wilson’s reputation was based almost completely on the very good glove he displayed in his prime. Yeah, there was that 2004 season in which he hit .308/.335/.459 (103 wRC+), made the All-Star Game, and people talked about it being a “breakout” year for him. Actually — and I can’t believe this happened to a guy who walked in under four percent of his plate appearances — it looks like that was probably mostly random variation. That was Wilson’s only major-league season with above-average offense, and his career line is .265/.306/.366 (74 WRC+). Despite this, his glove made him a valuable player in his prime, and that was what one should really focus on when thinking of his career.

However, even a glove-first shortstop will manage some big hits over 5,339 plate appearances. So, in honor of his impending retirement, let’s use the story stat, Win Probability Added (WPA), to look at three of Jack Wilson’s biggest hits in terms of their in-game impact.

3. June 28, 2004. The Cardinals ended up winning the 2004 National League pennant before getting swept by the Red Sox in the World Series, but back in June they suffered a loss in a rather hilarious way to the Pirates. The Pirates and the Cardinals were locked up in a 1-1 tie with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning in Pittsburgh. The Pirates had only managed two hits in the game when Wilson smacked a third. It looked like a double to left fielder Ray Lankford. However, Wilson thought he could get to third — a silly baserunning mistake, as Albert Pujols was covering on the play, and was ready to receive Lankford’s throw. However, when Pujols tried to throw Wilson out, the ball went into the dugout, and Wilson came around to score the game-ending run. It was scored a triple for Wilson with an error on Pujols (.424 WPA).

2. July 8, 2003. It was a Rommel-Patton-level battle when the Lloyd McClendon-led Pirates hosted the Ned Yost-commanded Brewers. This was no meaningless game. By the end of the season the fourth-place Pirates only ended up finishing seven games ahead of the last-place Brewers in the divisional standings.

The game was actually exciting, considered on its own terms. The Pirates had a commanding 5-0 lead in the sixth when Richie Sexson hit a three-run homer for the Brewers. The Pirates maintained a lead, but in the bottom of the ninth, Wes Helms hit a two-run bomb to knot the game up at six. In the top of the tenth, Matt Stairs hit a two-out single to set the stage for the most dramatic of Jack Wilson’s nine 2003 home runs, for .481 WPA. Those runs did decide the game, but arguably the most exciting play happened in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and runners on first and second, John Vander Wal hit a single. Scott Podsednik scored from second, but Kenny Loften threw out Geoff Jenkins at third to end the game and give the Pirates the win.

1. April 6, 2009. It is fitting that Wilson’s biggest hit (in game impact terms) would be on Opening Day of his last (partial) season with the Pirates against the team that originally drafted him, the Cardinals. Well, I think it is fitting, anyway. The score was tied at two when the Cardinals managed two runs in the eighth from a Ryan Ludwick homer and a David Freese sacrifice fly. However, the Pirates stormed back in the top of the ninth against Jason Motte. After a Freddy Sanchez double and a couple of outs, Adam LaRoche singled Sanchez in to bring the Pirates within one. Eric Hinske hit a double, and Motte hit Brandon Moss to lad the bases. Up came Jack Wilson, who hit a bases-clearing double with two strikes to drive in what turned out to be the game-winning runs for the Pirates (.704 WPA).