In today’s edition of This Week in Cubs History, we move from the field to the seats, which is exactly what Lewis Robert “Hack” Wilson did 90 years ago.
Wilson, who was unique in terms of both his stature (5-foot-6 and 190 pounds with an 18-inch neck) and his power (some compared him to Babe Ruth), began his career with the New York Giants in 1923. After inconsistent performance and a trip to their minor league affiliate in Toledo, the Giants placed Wilson on waivers. He was picked up by the Cubs in 1925 and quickly became a fan favorite in Chicago.
Wilson was a very combative individual, which led to the most infamous moment of his career. On June 22, 1928, a fan heckled Wilson so mercilessly that the center fielder jumped into the stands and attacked the man. His actions led to a riot and an estimated 5,000 spectators rushed the field before the police could restore order. The fan Wilson attacked attempted to sue him for $20,000, but the jury sided with the Cubs star.
This would not be the last time Wilson instigated a fight with fans or players. Ray Kolp, a Reds pitcher, made a derogatory slur towards Wilson while he was standing on first base. Wilson charged the Reds dugout and punched Kolp multiple times. In September 1931, he was suspended for the remainder of the season without pay when he got into a fight with multiple reporters on a train.
In spite of — or perhaps because of — his rambunctious spirit, Wilson was as good a hitter of baseballs as he was faces. His greatest season came in 1930 when he posted a slash line of .356/.454/.723. He led the NL in home runs with 56 and drove in 191 runs, a single-season MLB record that still stands today.
After his monster 1930 season, however, Wilson’s production soon declined. He had a severe drinking problem that had been passed down from both parents and showed up to spring training 20 pounds overweight the following year. It didn’t help that MLB introduced a heavier ball with raised stitching during that 1931 season. This allowed pitchers to get a better grip on the ball to throw sharper breaking pitches.
Wilson struggled with the change and could not put up the same consistent numbers he had in years past. The Cubs traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932 and he retired from baseball two years later. The Veterans Committee elected Wilson to the Hall of Fame in 1979.