Artie Wilson has been a fixture in the Hawaii basketball community for over four decades, first as a player for the University of Hawaii and then as a TV analyst for the ‘Bows.
But perhaps the most prominent sport in his upbringing was baseball, a game in which his father, Artie Sr., was a legend. Artie Wilson Sr. was a four-time All-Star shortstop in the Negro Leagues in the 1940s for the Birmingham Black Barons.
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“My dad was probably the most competitive gentleman I’ve ever known,” Artie Jr. told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “People tell me how fierce he competed, but he was always with a smile, he was always gentle, he was always a good person, and I’m just really proud that he was my dad.”
On top of his individual accolades, Artie Sr. is also known as the last known player at a top pro level to have a batting average above .400 in a season, hitting .408 in the 1948 season. Artie Sr. had a brief stint in the MLB in 1951, back when there were only 15 black players in the league. He played the final 11 years of his career at the AAA level, winning four PCL battling titles. He later was inducted into both the PCL and Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.
During a visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum four years ago, Artie Jr. was startled by the impact his father had on the sport, which was understated by Artie Sr.’s constant humility.
“He never spoke about himself as a great baseball player, a superstar before the term was really known,” Artie Jr. recalls. “He talked about himself as a man who loved playing baseball. He loved the game of baseball so I was kind of taken aback by the reality of my dad being a superstar. The hologram at the entry that talks about the hours of operation and this, that, and the other, I walk up to the hologram and it’s my dad, a life-sized hologram of my dad. I was just sitting there with my wife and my daughter and we were like ‘wow.’”
Artie Wilson Sr. passed away on Oct. 31, 2010. But nearly a decade later, his memory remains prominent in his son’s mind. On Friday, Artie Jr. will have a special edition of his radio show on Friday at 9 a.m. on ESPN Honolulu commemorating his father following MLB’s 100-year celebration of the Negro Leagues on Aug. 16.
“My dad during the last year or two, he had signs of dementia and his memory would fade a little bit. The one memory that never faded was talking about the game of baseball. You could sit with him and watch baseball five, six hours a day,” Artie Jr. said. “He would tell you exactly what’s coming on the next pitch. And then you go ‘how did he see that? how did he know that?’ But he could read pitchers so well. My dad could read all of that and could watch the game of baseball to the very end, he was watching the game of baseball.
“My ultimate goal is to be half the man he was. I’m very proud of being the junior and I’m hopeful that one of my grandsons is gonna grow up and they’re gonna learn about their great grandfather and aspire to be the kind of human beings he was because my dad was a quality, quality person and treated everybody like they were his best friend.”