Today’s Topic: Jack Wilson. Could a reunion be beneficial for the Pirates organization? I believe so, and his track record backs it up.
Our grand opening, though delayed for quite sometime, is here and ready for business. The proverbially bar lights are flicked on, the liquor is shelved and the conversations brewing. It’s time to join the conversation.
The Pirates recent frenzy of coaching realignment — firing of third-base coach Rick Sofield and organizational position shift of first-base coach Nick Leyva — leave general manager Neal Huntington, manager Clint Hurdle and company with two vacant base coach positions to replenish. Who could fill one of these roles in a laudable manner?
Look no further than Jack Wilson, who once proclaimed Pittsburgh as “America’s greatest sports town.”
Wilson, a former Pirate, vacuum infield glove and proficient baserunner, just may be a foolproof alternative for the newly vacated first- and third-base Pirates coaching positions.
The main reasoning behind the open positions was Pittsburgh’s porous base running last season.
In 2016, ranking 13th in BsR — an advanced defensive metric showing how many runs above or below league average a team gets on the base paths — making the second-most outs at third base, finishing last on taking extra bases and recording the third-most outs on plays at home, Sofield warranted a firing.
Mediocre — no. Substandard base running on the Pirates front is no longer acceptable. Tying for MLB’s second-most times being picked off and 37 caught stealing attempts doesn’t correlate to quality coaching.
Sofield is a nice guy, but just being a nice guy doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to win ballgames.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Wilson, a fan-favorite, could and would sufficiently sure up the Bucs on the base paths and defensively (Sofield handled base running, Leyva maneuvered infielders).
And playing nine years in Pittsburgh doesn’t hurt the cause.
Growing up a California boy, Wilson arrived in Pittsburgh for the first time in January 2001 for the team’s annual PiratesFest. Exiting the plane he boarded in Los Angeles, both Wilson and his wife, Julie, were dawning shorts on a frigid, snowy Pittsburgh afternoon. Let’s just say the rest became a thing of the past, and Wilson forever became enshrined in Pirates history lore.
Nobody personified the game as well as Wilson, who was an all-out hustler on the field and made Gold Glove caliber plays look easy.
“I’ve always taken pride in my defense,” Wilson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic in 2012.
He sure did and statistics don’t lie, either.
“Defensive wins above replacement player” — a reputable advanced defensive statistic — places Wilson third-best on the team’s all-time list. Only Bill Mazeroski and Honus Wagner, Baseball Hall of Fame members, are ahead of him. Surely, Wilson never missed an opportunity to make a Houdini-like play in the field, and often times made uncatchable balls look routine.
Here’s are two prime examples:
Wilson could do it with the bat, though, too.
In 2004, a long-standing streak ended due to Wilson’s terrific season. Wagner, circa-1900s shortstop, was the last Pirates player to amass 200 hits in a single-season up until the California-native smacked 201 knocks. Adding insult to injury on his already monumental 200-plus hit feat, Wilson bashed 12 triples, leading the National League that year. It ended up being a season in which he would additionally take home hardware: 2004 National League Silver Slugger honors.
But Wilson’s character didn’t end on the field, and respect only on the field wasn’t enough for him.
The former Pirates shortstop regularly became a visitor at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and began the noteworthy, popular “Bowling with the Bucs” event, a charity bowling outing that would live on after his departure.
Through the thick and thin, regardless of nine straight losing seasons, Wilson carried himself with class, dignity and humility. An open-ended letter to Pirates fans following his departure epitomized his incumbency in Pittsburgh.
Regardless of never being included on a Pirates postseason roster, he certainly helped nurture prospects who would.
Wilson’s tutelage towards younger up-and-coming stars helped lay the necessary framework and pavement for the Pirates soon-to-come postseason runs.
Two prospects Wilson played an impact on during his time in Pittsburgh were third baseman Pedro Alvarez and center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Perhaps not so coincidentally, after the pair each took home a Silver Slugger Award in 2013, Wilson awarded Alvarez and McCutchen their awards during opening day 2014 festivities. Not only did Alvarez and McCutchen bring home the first Silver Sluggers to Pittsburgh since 2004, 2013 also saw the team snap its 20-year losing streak and postseason drought.
So it was only fitting Wilson would officially hand over the achievements.
Natural tendencies beaming from Wilson’s actions and play are every manager’s dream, especially an old-school skipper such as Hurdle.
From his flashy Gold Glove-esque plays to his work in the community, there is no doubt in my mind that Wilson would classify as a terrific fit for the 2017 Pirates ball club. Obviously, there’s a strong connection between Wilson and the City of Pittsburgh. Their hard-working styles go hand in hand.
Currently, Wilson is the manager of Thousand Oaks High School in Los Angeles, where he coaches his son. But things can change ever so quickly.
“I have a passion for coaching,” Wilson told Bob Pompeani on 93.7 The Fan in 2014. “My goal is to be a (NCAA) Division 1 baseball coach.”
However, how about take that dream a step further, Jack? Sign on to be a base coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a Major League Baseball team and not a subsidiary college or high school squad.
Wilson’s background in Pittsburgh and love for the city equate perfectly.
Do your job Neal Huntington, make this match made in heaven a reality once again.
Joe Cinello covers Pirates material for Pittsburgh Sports Castle. Connect with him on Facebook (Joey Cinello), Linkedin (Joseph Cinello) and Twitter (jcin13). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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