Highlighting Omaha's Black Stars: Willie Wilson
A member of the Royals Hall of Fame, outfielder Willie Wilson spent much of the 1977 season with the Omaha Royals after making his major league debut with Kansas City Royals a year earlier as a September call-up from Double-A. Kansas City’s 1st-round pick in the 1974 June Amateur Draft,
A member of the Royals Hall of Fame, outfielder Willie Wilson spent much of the 1977 season with the Omaha Royals after making his major league debut with Kansas City Royals a year earlier as a September call-up from Double-A. Kansas City’s 1st-round pick in the 1974 June Amateur Draft, Wilson was known for his speed and steadily rose through the Royals system, reaching Omaha in 1977
Wilson tied for first on the 1977 Omaha Royals in games played (132), ranked second in hits (145) behind Clint Hurdle, and set a franchise record for steals (74) that was broken just two seasons later by Germán Barranca (75), a record that still stands today. Wilson's 74 steals in 1977 were the most in Triple-A and the fifth-most in Minor League Baseball (Ricky Henderson led Minor League Baseball with 95 steals for Class A Modesto).
1977 was Wilson’s last in the minor leagues, as he once again was called up to Kansas City in September and over 13 games hit .324 and stole six bases, remaining in the majors through 1994. He went on to have a 19-year big league career, including 15 seasons with Kansas City. He earned All-Star honors in 1982 and 1983 and helped the Royals win the 1985 World Series by going 11-for-30 (.367) in the Fall Classic.
One of the fastest players in the league, Wilson’s 668 career stolen bases rank 12th all time. In just his second full season with the Royals, Wilson led the majors in 1979 with 83 steals, then swiped 79 while having the best year of his career in 1980.
In that 1980 season he slashed .326/.357/.421 while leading the league in runs (133), hits (230), and triples (15). Wilson also recorded 28 doubles and stole 79 bases in 1980 en route to finishing fourth in an American League MVP race won by teammate George Brett, while also winning a silver slugger in the award’s first season and the lone gold glove of his career.
1980 was the first of five times Wilson led the league in triples, doing it again with 15 in 1982, while also winning the batting title with a .332 average, one point over that season’s MVP, Milwaukee’s Robin Yount.
Wilson remained with the Royals through the 1990 season, going on to spend two years with the Oakland Athletics (1991-1992) and two with the Chicago Cubs (1993-1994). After his playing career ended, he spent time coaching in the Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks systems. In 2000, he was elected to the Royals Hall of Fame and in 2008, the organization named their minor league baserunning award in his honor – the Willie Wilson Baserunner of the Year Award – recognizing the organization’s top baserunner.