April 2011

Charles Woodrow “Swamp Baby” Wilson

Since it’s spring, and we’re into baseball season, we thought we’d write about another one of PC’s early major league baseball players – Charles Woodrow Wilson.

Shortstop Charlie “Swamp Baby” Wilson was born in Clinton on January 13, 1905, and grew up at Thornwell Orphanage. He graduated from PC in 1928, and while here he was a true athletic standout. He was the captain of the freshman basketball, football and track teams, and played varsity basketball, track and baseball. After his first year on the varsity baseball team, the Pac Sac was singing his praises: “His feet and hands worked like magic; often before we knew where the horsehide had been batted, Charlie would have it scooped up and on its way to first. At bat he was a terror for the opposition, and whenever he made his appearance, the outfielders could be seen moving outward and at the same time surveying with their eyes the woods in the background. You should set those woods afire before you leave us, Charlie!” During his senior year, he was the captain of the varsity baseball team, and he won the William Laval Medal as the best athlete in the state of South Carolina.

Charlie Wilson from the 1927 Pac Sac

Like many Southern ballplayers of the time, he played for several textile mill teams while he was in school. While he was in high school at Thornwell, he played for the Clinton team in 1920 and the Laurens team in 1922. In 1928, he played once again for Clinton.

He began his professional baseball career with the Class B Danville (Illinois) Veterans in 1929. During 1930 he was with the Rochester (New York) Red Wings. That year, according to the Rochester Herald, the “dashing Carolinian” married a Rochester girl and made his home there. In 1931 he was called up by the Boston Braves, and had his major league debut on April 14. He actually played third base rather than shortstop for the Braves, and appeared in 16 games. Partway through the season, however, he was sent back to the Red Wings, where he played again in 1932.

He was called up by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1932, and he played 24 games for them at shortstop that season and one game the following season, but later in the 1933 season he was back in the minors, and played for Rochester and the Columbus Red Birds in 1933, and Columbus in 1934. He was back with St. Louis again for part of 1935, and appeared at shortstop for them in 16 games. He played his final major league game on May 25, 1935. During his time in the major leagues he played during four seasons. His batting average was .215, his slugging percentage .317, his fielding percentage as a shortstop .935, and his fielding percentage at third base .922.

After he left the Cardinals, he was sent back to Rochester. He completed his career in the minor leagues with the Montreal Royals (1936) and the Jersey City Giants (1937). During his years in the minor leagues, he played in 1070 games, had a batting average of .292 and a slugging percentage of .423.

An interesting sidelight on Charlie Wilson’s career is the story of how he got his nickname, “Swamp Baby.” Apparently one day he wanted a day off from practice, so he flooded the baseball field to make it unusable. This stunt was immortalized in the movie Bull Durham.

Charlie Wilson died in Rochester, New York, on December 19, 1970, and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery there.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for the major and minor league statistics.