In Memory of Don Wilson

Wilson of Astros is found Dead
The Houston Chronicle
January 6, 1975


(c) Houston Astros
HOUSTON, Jan. 5 (AP) - A Houston Astro pitcher, Don Wilson, and his 5-year-old son were found dead at their home today, authorities said. Wilson's wife and daughter were hospitalized.

Wilson's body was found in the passenger side of the family car which was in the garage adjoining his house. The body of his son, Alexander, was found in an upstairs bedroom, said the Harris County Medical Examiner, H.M. Hall.

Hall said there was a lot of carbon monoxide gas throughout the garage and adjoining house, but would not give a cause of death pending autopsies. Earlier reports said the deaths were by asphyxiation caused by a toxic material - carbon monoxide. A coroner's report is expected tomorrow.

"The preliminary investigation indicates the deaths are accidental," a police spokesman said, according to United Press International.

The Wilsons' 9-year-old daughter, Denise, was found in her bedroom, a morgue spokesman said. She was reported in critical condition in a coma at Texas Children's Hospital.

The bedrooms are above the garage.

Wilson's 29-year-old wife, Bernice, was listed in fair condition at Southwest Memorial Hospital. Mrs. Wilson was awake when the police arrived.

Among Mrs. Wilson's injuries was a fractured jaw.

A Houston Fire Department spokesman, Jack MacGillis, said a woman had called the fire department, which handles ambulance service within the city, saying that she could not wake her children and that her husband was in their car. MacGillis said the call was received at 1:24 P.M. Calls for ambulances are automatically reported to the Houston Police Department, which then dispatched officers to Wilson's fashionable home in the city's southwest section.

A spokesman for the Houston Police Department said that when officers arrived at the Wilson home at approximately 1:30 P.M. they found the pitcher in the garage. He was unconscious seated in the right front seat of his 1972 Thunderbird. His head was tilted back resting on the seat and his arms were at his sides. His left foot was crossed over his right foot. A pack of cigarettes was on the dashboard in front of Wilson.

The left front door was closed. but the right door was open. The ignition was on and the gasoline indicator was at empty, but the car's engine was cold. The garage doors were open.

Alexander, the son, was found in his bed, lying on his stomach with his arms raised around his head, covered to the waist by a sheet.

T.R. Trinkle, a juvenile-care officer, said he had talked to Mrs. Wilson at the hospital. He quoted her as having said she awoke after having heard a car motor running and had gone to check on the children. She said the children "sounded like they were crying in their sleep," the officer said.

She told him she had picked up the boy and taken him to the master bedroom and shut the doors to both the daughter's bedroom and the master bedroom. She said she could not go back to sleep because the car motor was still running, so she went to check and found her husband, Trinkle reported.

She told him she had called a friend, a registered nurse, who had told her to check for a pulse. She said she did not know how she got the broken jaw, Trinkle added.

"It was a terrible shock," said the Astros' general manager, Spec Richardson. "The whole organization is very sorry over this tragedy."

"I couldn't believe it," fellow Astro pitcher, Dave Roberts, said as he waited at the hospital to visit Mrs. Wilson. "Don had everything going for him. He had it all together."

"We had been working at the speaker's bureau together and everything was fine. He didn't show up for the pitching school this morning and I guess that started them looking."

Wilson and Roberts work in the offseason at the Astros' speaker's bureau, which arranges speaking engagements for the players. Wilson had been scheduled to instruct at a coaching school today with another Astros' pitcher, Tom Griffin.

Roberts said the last time he was with Wilson was Dec. 15, when the two reported to the speaker's bureau office at the Astrodome.

An Astro official said Wilson had visited the Astros offices several times during the offseason and was looking forward to the 1975 season.

"He really was enthused about the upcoming season," said Boby Risinger, in charge of Astro publicity.

"I really enjoyed him and being around him," Griffin said. "He was a nice person, a great person. I want people to know what kind of a guy he was. He was a good human being."

Wilson, 29, pitched two no-hitters in his career with the Astros. He broke into major league baseball with Houston in 1966 and had been a standout on the Astros' pitching staff.

Last year he compiled an 11-13 won-lost record and 3.07 earned-run average.

He pitched no-hitters against the Atlanta Braves on June 18, 1967, and against the Cincinnati Reds on May 1, 1969.

Wilson was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1971.

Almost a 3rd No-Hitter

When the 6-foot-3-inch right-hander set down the Atlanta Braves without a hit in 1967, a baseball fan might well have said: "Don Wilson, Don Wilson? The big fat guy who used to be the announcer on Jack Benny's programs?"

But Wilson went on to win 104 games in his nine-season career and in 1969 tossed his second no-hitter, this time against the Reds in Cincinnati.

Last year he lost a chance to become only the second National League pitcher to throw more than two no-hit games. He had set down the Reds without a hit through eight innings, but the Astros were trailing, 2-1, so Manager Preston Gomez used a pinch-hitter for Wilson. Mike Cosgrove, the relief pitcher who replaced him, gave up a hit to Tony Perez in the ninth.

"I respect Preston Gomez as a manager," said Wilson after the game. "I respect him more than ever tonight. When people start putting personal goals ahead of the team, you'll never have a winner."

Wilson was born in Monroe, La., on Lincoln's Birthday, 1945, the same town and on the same date at Bill Russell, the former star center and coach of the Boston Celtics basketball team who now coaches the Seattle SuperSonics.

He was signed by the Astros as a free agent in 1964 out of Compton Junior College in California. He acquired his first major league victory by beating Cincinnati in a six-inning relief turn in 1966.

Grady Hatton, his first manager in Houston, said of his rookie hurler: "Don has a great arm. He has a high-riding fastball and a short, hard slider. He won 10 games for us when he didn't know what it was all about. He should be a dandy."