J. D. Thorne

Milwaukee Washington High School Star Robert “Red” Wilson

Red Wilson has a bronze plaque dedicated to him in the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame visible outside the east wall of the U.S. Cellular Arena at 4th and Kilbourn Ave.  I have known Red personally for over 25 years as like me he is a former U. W. Badger baseball player and board member of the U.W. – Madison “National “W” Club, although Red actually became a National “W” Club President.  As most readers may know, since 1991 no more of us Badger baseball players have been “minted.” 

My first memory of Red personally was that following a Badger Baseball Alumni game prior to a football game in the 1980’s in which I played, Red stayed around after the game to play with the kids, including my at the time 10 year old son, Andrew.  He is that kind of guy.

Usually when I talk about him to others, I begin with the question, “Do you know about the Chicago Tribune Big Ten “Silver Football” award?  Most need an explanation.  It is the award that has been given by the newspaper going back to 1920’s and players like Red Grange to the player deemed the best football player in the Big Ten Conference, like the Heisman Trophy is given to the best player in the country.  It is awarded after the season yet today.

In all the years of its existence, Red Wilson is the only offensive center to ever receive it.  That is how good he was as a football player, anchoring a Badger offensive line known as the “Hard Rocks” to the Big Ten Championship in 1950.  But it is as a baseball player he was honored with bronze a plaque!

After a great career as a Badger catcher, he played from 1951 to 1960 for the White Sox, Tigers, and Indians.  His biography in the book, The Ballplayers (Arbor House William Morrow; New York, NY, 1993) reads this way:

“601 MLB games for the White Sox, Tigers, and Indians. Lifetime batting average .258, 24 home runs, 189 rbi. Wilson, a former University of Wisconsin football star, was never an everyday catcher, but he caught at least 59 games each year from 1953 to 1960.  With the Tigers he was the primary catcher of “The Yankee Killer” Frank Lary;  Lary was 16 – 3 (with two no-decisions) against new York with Wilson behind the plate.  In addition Wilson batted.354 in those 21 contests – 96 points above his career average.”

Red went on to a magnificent business career with a Madison, WI banking institution.  He now resides in Madison.  I even played amateur baseball with his son, Jim, also a terrific person, educator, and good athlete.

Red Wilson is same person – distinguished UW – Madison alumni, distinguished Badger athlete, and individual worthy of induction to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in Milwaukee, that was kept waiting 2 hours in the reception area of the UW - Madison Athletic Department for an appointment that never came with the U. W. – Madison Athletic Director about the idea of restoring the intercollegiate baseball program there. 

While the current Wisconsin Athletic Director, also a member with a bronze plaque in the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, refuses to accept the $50 Million Dollars that can be raised to restore the men’s intercollegiate baseball program – and two other women’s programs to maintain gender equity in compliance with Title IX such as women’s Rugby and possibly Women’s La Crosse or Bowling – I ponder Red Wilson’s thoughts sitting in the waiting room of the UW – Madison Athletic Room for those two hours?

UW – Madison can’t mint any more like “Red” with no men’s baseball program.

Every other school in the Big Ten has a men’s baseball program.  Indeed, Big Ten Indiana made it to the College World Series in Omaha last season!  Why can’t we some day?