The Man who Dried up Memphis

4 Jan

Finis Albert “Fin” Wilson had a brief, unsuccessful Major League career.  After four minor league seasons—two with the Knoxville Reds in the Appalachian League and two with the New Orleans Pelicans in the Southern Association—and a brief spring trial with the Cleveland Indians, Wilson signed a contract to play with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops in the Federal League in September of 1914.

Appearing in two games that September, Wilson went 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA.  Despite a respectable 3.78 ERA in 1915, Wilson‘s Major League career was over after a 1-8 season for the Tip-Tops.

Wilson signed with the Atlanta Crackers in the Southern Association in 1916, but became sick in April and missed most of the first half of the season.  He returned to the team in July and ended the season with a 4-6 record.

Finis Wilson 1914

Finis Wilson 1914

He returned home to Greensburg. Kentucky and served two terms in the Kentucky General Assembly.  In 1928 he was appointed as a federal prohibition administrator in Memphis, Tennessee, primarily responsible for stopping the transportation of illegal liquor on the Mississippi River.

Wilson was very popular in Atlanta because while pitching for New Orleans in 1913 he beat the Mobile Sea Gulls on the last day of the 1913 season securing the championship for the Crackers and shortly after his appointment he was the subject of a glowing profile in The Atlanta Constitution:

“In an office at the custom-house here in old Shelby County with the Mississippi meandering by just outside the window I found the man who won the 1913 pennant for the Atlanta Crackers. Finis E. Wilson, who left a bank presidency in Kentucky to battle Shelby county bootleggers, does not look like the young left-handed pitcher who gave the greatest exhibition of courage the Southern Association ever saw. His hair is gray now and he looks positively genial.”

He was on the front line of the government’s battle with moonshiners.  In one raid Wilson, according to The Associated Press he:

 “Dried Memphis up… (Wilson) directed the greatest cleanup Memphis ever experienced…more than 150 persons were arrested and confiscated 1,500 gallons of whiskey, 800 gallons of wine and 20,000 quarts of home-brew.

In another raid two of Wilson’s boats were bombed as agents destroyed 1300 gallons of liquor and arrested six men.  Wilson told The Associated Press:

“If it’s war the moonshiners want it’s war they’ll get.”

And it was a war; 16 agents were killed and 183 were injured in 1928 and ’29 alone; and while corruption among agents was widespread, it appears that no agents under Wilson were charged with any wrongdoing.

Wilson left government service sometime after the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, and died in Coral Gables, Florida in 1959.

Finis Wilson circa 1930

Finis Wilson circa 1930

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