Backup Catcher Edition
What has Vance Wilson been up to in his post playing days?
Even for baseball fans of the hardest core, that’s a seldom-asked question. Why would anyone ask about the former Met and Tiger catcher, forever a backup, who never played in more than 96 games in any of his eight years as a player?
But I had to smile today when I discovered that Wilson has stayed in baseball, now as manager of the Kane County Cougars (Low-A, Kansas City Royals). (Though I was disappointed in myself for failing to realize I was in his midst at a Cougars game in May.) Because for reasons I still don’t completely understand, Wilson was my all-time favorite player.
Maybe it was because he was the true unsung hero on his teams. Not just a under-appreciated catcher, but an unheralded backup catcher. He could come into games late and produce results – a hard-to-do task after a full day sitting on the bench.
Though his sporadic playing time rarely allowed him to get into a rhythm, he had a solid .250 career batting average, and he threw out a whopping 40 percent of would-be base-stealers. That’s awesome.
But even better, the guy I inexplicably called “Vance the Pants,” provided me with one of my all-time favorite baseball memories.
On a sunny summer day before a Tigers-White Sox game in 2006, Wilson was signing autographs down the left field line. I ventured down a few rows at Comerica Park to see if Wilson would sign the Paul Konerko foul ball I had gloved during batting practice.
There wasn’t much of a crowd around Wilson, so the task was easy. I handed him the ball and, emboldened by what seemed like a once in a lifetime chance to chat, said: “Vance, this is going to sound really weird, but you’re my favorite player.”
“Kid, you’ve got problems,” Wilson said, handing me back a newly-inked baseball that had just become a prized possession.