Fouled Away – The Baseball Tragedy of Hack Wilson
by Clifton Blue Parker (2000)
In 1930, Chicago Cub Hack Wilson set the single season record for most Runs Batted In (RBIs), arguably the most important single statistic in baseball. His record of 191 Runs Batted In still stands today. Through eight decades of baseball, no one has touched it. But Hack Wilson couldn’t even approach his 1930 numbers in later years, and four years later, he was washed up, an alcoholic and out of Major League Baseball.
©1930 Chicago Daily News
This biography of Hack Wilson describes a tragedy. As Parker clearly demonstrates, the same demons that drove Wilson to play at the level he did also drove him to self-destruction. This is not a cheerful book. Wilson, while he was capable of greatness, was also tormented. He attacked fans in the stands, opposing pitchers, and was involved in a seemingly endless series of drunken brawls, both during and after Prohibition. And Parker tells this story fairly well. There are notable gaps, especially before and after Wilson’s big league career; Wilson came from out of nowhere and died in obscurity. The research must have been a challenge.
But I give the book only 3/5 stars for two reasons. First, although Parker dwells at length and many times on Wilson’s odd physique, he never connects the dots between Wilson’s hard-partying, hard-drinking mother and Wilson’s large head, tiny feet, short legs and broad, flat face. Anyone who has worked with Fetal Alcohol Symptom children will recognize immediately the signs in Wilson. FAS includes life-long poor impulse control. Parker’s biography of Wilson reads like a primer on the life of an FAS victim.
And, second, that realization changes dramatically the story of Hack Wilson’s life. He wasn’t just another young man with great promise who succumbed to alcoholism. He was a kid who was born with the odds against him, doomed to a crippling syndrome in the womb, who overcame those odds, to do truly great things. It’s a story of patience and discipline in someone who struggled much harder than others to have either of those things. The successes Hack Wilson achieved are much greater when understood in context. The records he set beggar the imagination when you understand the handicaps he carried. There is a triumph, real triumph, in this tragedy. I only wish the author had seen it more clearly.