Longtime Madison resident Robert “Red” Wilson, a former University of Wisconsin football and baseball star who went on to success in the major leagues, passed away on Friday morning at Agrace Hospice in Madison. He was 85.
Wilson was a longtime member of the Dug Out Club, which served as booster club for the now-defunct UW baseball program and now promotes baseball at all levels in the Madison area.
Dug Out Club president Tom Bennett notified club members of Wilson's passing in an email early Friday afternoon. Wilson's son, Jim, also a former Badgers baseball player, is an assistant baseball coach at Madison Edgewood High School and a member of the Dug Out Club.
Red Wilson made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 22, 1951, and played his last game with the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 24, 1960.
Wilson was born in Milwaukee in 1929 and attended UW where he was a star football player for the Badgers. Wilson won Most Valuable Player honor as the center for the Badgers in 1947 and '48. He was also an all-Big Ten Conference center in 1947. In his senior year, 1949, Wilson was the team captain and won the Big Ten Most Valuable Player award as an end.
Wilson also led the Badgers baseball team in batting, hitting .342 and .426 in 1948 and '49, respectively. He led the Badgers to a 17–7 record and a berth in the 1950 College World Series. Wilson graduated from UW in 1951 as an insurance major.
Wilson was selected in the fourth round of the 1950 NFL draft as the 52nd pick overall by the Cleveland Browns, but he elected to play baseball after college. He was signed by the White Sox as an amateur free agent in 1950 and primarily played catcher during his 10-year major league career.
He played in 85 games for the White Sox from 1951 to '53. In May 1954, Wilson was traded to the Detroit Tigers, where he played from 1954 to '60. Wilson ended his career with the Indians in 1960.
Wilson's best season was 1958 when he played in career-high 103 games, had a .299 batting average and a .373 on-base percentage. He also stole 10 bases. On July 20 of that year, he caught Jim Bunning's no-hitter.
He played in 602 major league games, including 580 as a catcher and hit .258. He was selected in 1960 by the expansion Los Angeles Angels but he opted to retire.
After his playing career ended, Wilson was a founder and president of the Westgate Bank in Madison and was president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association from 1971 to 1972.
He was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.