WHYGAVS First Baseman of the Decade: Craig Wilson

Absolute zero is the coldest temperature theoretically possible. Molecular movement slows to the point of near stoppage, preventing energy transfer from one molecule to another, leaving all energy at the lowest point possible. The snag is that this temperature cannot possibly be reached by any means because no matter how insulated the system, no matter how remote the nebula, nothing can be completely detached from the entropy of the universe. This is oddly comforting and is also the reason that even the Pittsburgh Pirates can have an all-decade team, even without a winning season.* You can find the other entries in this series here.

Craig Wilson, 2001-2006

Picking a first baseman of the decade was considerably more difficult than picking a catcher. Going by true first basemen, Adam LaRoche was the best the Pirates had at the position. LaRoche doesn’t quite feel right, though, having only been a Pirate for three years and both coming and going in trades. On the flip side, Craig Wilson was always one of my favorite Pirates, he played almost half of his games in black and gold at first base, and since he got screwed repeatedly by the Pirates during his tenure as a Bucco this feels like a small way of setting things right with the universe.

Since I’ve set this whole series up with a bit of a cosmic theme, let’s keep it going. Some of you are likely familiar with the theory that each time we make a choice in life, a parallel universe splits from ours in which we’ve made the opposite choice. Over a lifetime these parallel universes branch off repeatedly, causing lots of trouble whenever Dr. Doom gets his hands on a time machine. By this theory, there is a universe parallel to ours in which Cam Bonifay never sent Carlos Garcia, Orlando Merced, and Dan Plesac off to Toronto and so Wilson would’ve remained a Blue Jay.

That means that when Wilson busted on to the scene in 2001 with 13 homers and a .979 OPS in 88 games, it wouldn’t have taken Toronto until 2004 to find a way to get the guy 600 plate appearances despite his consistent ability to get on base and bash the ball. And maybe as a regular in the AL he never suffers the hand and shoulder injuries that derailed his career because he spends time at DH instead of in right field, where he never really belonged.

Instead, Wilson spent 2001 and 2002 crushing pinch-hit home runs, played irregularly in 2003 despite a final .262/.360/.511 line with 18 homers in 358 PAs, and was regularly benched for the likes of Daryle Ward or had Raul Mondesi and Sean Casey signed to play in front of him. What really made Wilson’s career interesting was the way it intersected with the release of Moneyball. When Michael Lewis’s seminal 2003 book was released, almost every Pirate fan that read it realized that they had a player on the team just like the ones that Billy Beane was finding on the scrap heap and using to his advantage, and sure enough he was being neglected by his own team.

As a result, Wilson became kind of a folk hero on the internet. I did my best to literally immortalize him, Charlie called him his “favorite Pirate” when he was traded to the Yankees, and we all cringed to realize that Dave Littlefield was ignoring him in the exact same way that all the GMs that Beane had exploited in the book. When John Perrotto reported that the team disliked him because he drank too much Pepsi, had long hair, and didn’t take the scoreboard portraits seriously (he pasted a picture of the Mona Lisa on to the blank canvas), things crossed over into horrific, bad joke territory.

In the end, Wilson was dumped off to the Yankees at the 2006 trade deadline for Shawn Chacon. This was, for many people, the last straw with Dave Littlefield. Over parts of six seasons with the Pirates, Wilson hit .268/.353/.486 with 94 homers, yet he was only given one real chance to play (2004, when Jason Bay began the year on the disabled list) and in the end he was dumped off for a pitcher the Yankees were about to release.

Wilson was a good player, though his flaws certainly existed and kept him from being great, and his career encapsulated everything that was bad about the Dave Littlefield era in a nutshell.

Honorable mention: Any player that comes to Pittsburgh thinking that they’ll be free of pressure from the fans should take Adam LaRoche‘s Pirate career under advisement. He struggled out of the gate in 2007 after being acquired from the Braves and no one ever forgot it, even though his .265/.340/.469 line as a Pirate was far from terrible and his 2008 season was actually kind of good after his annual summer hot streak. He also actually played first base for almost three full years as a Pirate, so he probably would be a more logical choice than Wilson for this spot, except that I will always like Craig Wilson and I’m the one handing out the awards here. Also, Daryle Ward succeeded where Craig Wilson failed by creating an awesome scoreboard painting of a giant “D” with an illustration of a train next to it.

Dishonorable mention: Daryle Ward wasn’t all that great at hitting baseballs with the Pirates. Randall Simon walked 27 times in 514 plate appearances over parts of two seasons. And he assaulted a giant anthropomorphic Italian sausage with a baseball bat.

*Yes, I fully realize that the decade technically runs from 2001-2010, not 2000-2009. But everyone else is doing it and I don’t care. I’ve also rennamed the series to the WHYGAVS Players of the Decade so the Pirates don’t sue me or something. That would be bad.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.