Interview Date: July 2, 2012
When children play baseball, it is not uncommon to see one of them have the audacity to try to throw a batter out on a ball hit into right field. On rare occasions, one of those boisterous children will actually manage to get the runner out. Once these children grow up, it becomes impossible to accomplish this feat. At least it is impossible unless you have the unbelievable arm of Glenn Wilson.
In 1980, he found himself drafted in the first round by the Detroit Tigers. I asked him what it was like to get drafted in the first round. “It was the dream come true. I always felt I would be a professional. I played football in college and switched to baseball after my second year. I knew there were scouts in the stands but I always thought they were looking at other players.” He was considered a solid 5-tool player and did not have to spend very long in the minor leagues.
It was not until he began playing in the majors that it became obvious that he had such an amazing throwing arm. I asked if there were any specific memories he associated with his strong throwing arm. “I came up with Howard Johnson in the minor leagues. I got to face HoJo as a pitcher and struck him out. But the most amazing memory happened at a game attended by Hank Aaron. I threw the runner out at first from right field and after the game, he came up to me and told me that he had never seen anyone do that.” Another great moment came during batting practice. Johnny Bench, watching him from the opposing team’s dugout, walked up to him and told him that his swing was wrong. He then spent ten minutes getting batting advice from the Hall of Famer. During the bottom of the 9th inning, Wilson came up to bat and using his new swing hit his only career walk-off home run. Immediately after the game, Bench came up to him and asked him to never tell anyone that he had accidentally helped his team lose by improving Wilson’s swing.
There are a lot of stories to be told about Wilson’s career, but the focus of this website is the Houston Astros and he had a lot to say about the team that brought him aboard in late 1989. “I enjoyed coming home to Texas because my family could keep up with me. This was before the age of social media and instant access to information. My mom and brother could watch me on television. But I never felt at home with the Astros. I do not think Art Howe was good for older players. I was in my 30s and for most baseball players that usually means that you are winding down your career. Art Howe believed in a youth movement and would not put me in when Glenn Davis got hurt even though I was putting up really good numbers.”
Wilson admitted that he was bitter with the Houston organization for a long time. “They promised me a three-year contract but they did not honor the agreement because the team was sold and the new owners did not feel they should have to honor agreements made with the old ownership.” He no longer harbors any bitterness towards the organization but instead has replaced it with acceptance. “Houston sports have always been a little strange. I was proud to be on the Astros but I have always called Houston the City of Almost Champions.”
Houston would not be his last stop in the majors, but he had plans to keep doing things he loved even after he left baseball. While playing for the Astros, he made an odd decision: he bought a full-service gas station. “It was not a convenience store like you see today. It was full-service. We had mechanics and attendants, and all of the things a real gas station should have.” He kept the gas station, called Glenn Wilson’s Hit and Run, for several years before the pressure of convenience stores forced him to sell the business. “It was the only thing I ever enjoyed doing other than sports.” It was not, however, the end of his involvement with baseball. “I asked for an interview to manage the Astros during the recent transition. I have also represented players that I think can play.” He does not consider himself an elite scout but he does believe that he is very capable of spotting the talent that can make it into Division I college baseball.
One of the biggest influences in his life stems out of a common issue facing baseball players: drugs. The pain of playing professionally can lead many players toward medication that helps alleviate it. “There is a lot of evil out there that anyone can get caught up in. Things they don’t understand are evil. A doctor hands you medicine and you take it. They don’t tell you that they can be addictive. They just tell you to take it.” If you are interested in knowing more about this side of his life, please click on Support Former Astros and check out his book Heading Home co-written by a Dallas native, Darrell Halk. “I’d like everyone to read it. If you’re looking to change your kid’s life or your relationship with you child through baseball, then you should pick it up. Darrell Halk’s ability to take the stories I told him and make them into a cohesive story is amazing.” He realized he had a problem and had a tough decision to make. He decided to quit cold turkey and struggled to fight off the effects of the withdrawal until he discovered an inner strength that he could only gain through the influence of God. “I found God. I can’t take credit for quitting. It wasn’t in my hands.”
Being a pesky fan, I wondered what his thoughts were on having people approach him for his autograph. “I have never been bothered by it, but I am especially appreciative of the influence I have now that I have found God.” It is obvious that Wilson is driven by an inner desire to make people’s lives a little better, even if that meant signing until his hand hurt. “We are regular people and should be approached like regular people. If there is a large crowd, I would sign as many as I could. But the problem is there might be 100 people and I always miss one. As I am walking away because I haven’t seen my family in 14 days and I miss them, I will see that fan that I didn’t get to and they look disappointed. I hated that look, so sometimes I would ignore everyone so that they would feel like I wasn’t signing for anyone instead of making that one person feel left out. I want to make everyone happy but it usually isn’t possible.”
Finally, I had to ask him a question that most people find difficult to answer. I asked him what he wanted his legacy to be. “I just want my legacy to be that my family would say ‘I loved him,’ especially my wife and three sons. I just want my headstone to say We loved him.”