Earl Wilson entered the majors in 1959 with the Red Sox. The Sox moved him to Detroit in 1966. Wilson became a key cog in the Tiger rotation alongside Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich as well as providing pop with his bat. He won 22 games in 1967, pitched for the 1968 champions, and hit 35 career home runs.
Boston was hostile to minorities well into the 1970s and 1980s. The Red Sox embodied this hostility by refusing to integrate until 1959. Pumpsie Green broke the color barrier in Boston in 1959. Earl Wilson followed later that season. Wilson pitched for the Red Sox until 1966. He won 56 games in seven seasons, and won 11 or more four times.
Wilson was 5-5 when Boston traded him to Detroit. He entered a bar during spring training and was told flatly that he would not be served because of his race. Wilson eventually went public and the Red Sox traded him for making waves. Boston received Don Demeter and Julio Navarro in exchange. Demeter played 93 games in Boston and Navarro never appeared for the Red Sox. The Tigers stole Wilson due to the Red Sox shortsightedness.
The Tigers’ acquisition went 13-6 in 23 starts in 1966. Overall, he finished the season 18-11. Wilson improved on 1966 the next season. He experienced his career year in 1967 going 22-11 and leading the league in wins. Wilson finished 12th in the MVP balloting with a 3.27 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 12 complete games, and 264 innings. Wilson’s effort helped keep the Tigers in the pennant race that summer. However, Detroit lost the pennant on the final day of the season.
The Tigers made sure they would not lose on the final day in 1968. The team ran away with the pennant behind Denny McLain’s 31 victories and a number of heart stopping victories. McLain dominated the regular season and Mickey Lolich’s three victories garnered the attention in the postseason. Wilson seemed lost in the shuffle. The righty finished 13-12 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.146 WHIP. He lost his only World Series start when the Cardinals knocked him out in the fifth inning of Game 3. The Tigers pulled out the title in seven games.
The World Champion Tigers finished a distant second to Baltimore in 1969. Wilson basically duplicated his 1968 performance with a 12-10 season. Age seemed to catch up with him in 1970. His ERA ballooned to 4.41 with Detroit and the Tigers sold the pitcher to San Diego. He went 1-6 down the stretch with the Padres and retired.
Wilson finished his career 121-109 overall. He spent his best seasons with the Tigers winning 64 games and posting a 3.18 ERA in five seasons. Interestingly, Wilson came up as a catcher and proved a good hitting pitcher. He hit .195 for his career, but belted 35 home runs and knocked in 111 in 740 at bats. The pitcher hit 2 as a pinch hitter, seven long balls in 1966 and 1968, and two in a 1965 contest. His bat helped win many games.
Earl Wilson provided a double threat. He could hit home runs and pitch complete games. The Red Sox did not like an outspoken black man and traded him to Detroit. Wilson won 12 or more games four times in five seasons, including 22 in 1967. The pitcher fell under the radar, but contributed to the 1968 world championship.