Del Wilber Jr was born on February 24, 1919 in Lincoln Park, Michigan. He attended Lincoln Park High School, where he earned three letters in football, four in basketball, and four in baseball before he graduated in 1937. That summer, he went to work in the stockroom at Ford Motor’s immense River Rouge assembly plant in neighboring Dearborn.

Del read a newspaper brief about a three-day tryout camp in Springfield, Illinois, for the San Antonio Missions, a St. Louis Browns farm club. He and a friend traveled 450 miles each way in a Ford Model A to participate in the camp. He was impressive enough to land a minor-league contract for the 1938 season and joined the Findlay Browns of the Class D Ohio State League.

After the season, the Browns’ cross-town rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, selected Del in baseball’s minor-league draft and assigned him to the Springfield Cardinals of the Class C Western Association. The next year, the 22-year-old backstop moved up to the Columbus Red Birds of the Class B South Atlantic League in 1941. 

Dels plans, like those of many of his generation, were sidetracked after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In February 1942, he entered the Army at Fort Custer, Michigan and was assigned to the Jefferson Barracks Army Air Force base at Lemay, Missouri, near St. Louis, where he trained to become a glider pilot and served as the baseball team’s player-manager. He rose to the rank of drill sergeant and transferred to Miami Beach, Florida, in October 1942, to attend Officer Candidate School. He earned his commission as a lieutenant in early 1943, and was assigned to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center at the preflight school at Kelly Field. 

World War II ended in September 1945 and Del, who had attained the rank of captain, was discharged from the Army Air Forces the following February, in time to attend spring training with the Cardinals, four years after his country’s call to duty had interrupted his career. He batted five times without a hit, and was sent down to the Triple-A Columbus Red Birds. 

He returned to St. Louis and collected his first major-league hit in his first at-bat of the 1947 season. He spent the entire season in the big leagues with the defending world champion Cardinals and hit .232. In 1948, he batted .190 in 27 games. In 1949, at the age of 30, Wilber collected one hit in four at-bats before the Cardinals dispatched him to serve as player-manager for the Houston of the Class A Texas League.

In 1950, he played in Rochester, the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate and batted .295 to help lead the Red Wings to the International League regular-season pennant. After Rochester fell in the finals of the league playoffs, St. Louis left the veteran catcher unprotected, and the Philadelphia Phillies plucked him in the minor-league draft in November.

In the spring of 1951, he joined the Phillies and, at the age of 32, embarked on his finest season. He set his major-league career best batting average at .278. He appeared in just two games for the Phillies in 1952, then was dealt to the Red Sox in May. 

He batted .267 in 47 games for the Red Sox, hit three home runs, and drove in 23 runs. He also recorded the only stolen base of his big-league career. In 1953, he enjoyed an unusual and efficient season when he collected 29 runs batted in with just 27 hits. Of the 27, six were doubles, one was a triple, and seven were home runs. He played in a pair of games at first base, the only time he appeared in the major leagues at a position other than catcher. He earned folk-hero status in Boston when he clubbed pinch-hit home runs on May 6th and 10th, and smacked his third of the year on May 20th, a two-out, 14th-inning solo shot to beat the St. Louis Browns. He hit another in the nightcap of a July 4th doubleheader at Fenway Park, his fourth pinch-hit home run of the season, one short of the AL record of five established by Joe Cronin in 1943. A year later, at the age of 35, the veteran backstop batted just .131 with one home run in 24 games. 

In December, he was traded to the New York Giants and was assigned to the Giants’ Triple-A farm club, the American Association’s Minneapolis Millers. Rather than report to the minor-league club, Del asked for his release, and after it was granted, he secured a job as bench coach and emergency catcher with the White Sox. Chicago finished third in the AL that year and again in 1956, and Del was dismissed when the manager was replaced by  Al Lopez.

He served as a scout for Baltimore the next year, then managed the Orioles’ Triple-A farm club, the Louisville Colonels. At the age of 39, he made 11 appearances – the last of his playing career – and in 10 at-bats, collected three hits, one a home run. After the season, the Orioles, Louisville, and Del all went their separate ways.

Two months into the 1959 season, he returned to the dugout, back in Houston, where he managed a Triple-A level Buffs. The Buffs finished with the worst record in the 10-team league, and Del was dismissed.

Never out of baseball for long, he piloted Washington’s Triple-A affiliate, the Charleston Senators in 1960. He remained in the organization when the Senators relocated to Minnesota, and from 1961 to 1969, managed the Twins’ Florida Instructional League team and served as a “super scout,” or scouting supervisor. 

Before the 1970 season began, Ted Williams, Del's old Red Sox teammate and friend made his old buddy his bullpen coach for the Washington Senators.

Del next returned to the minor leagues and embarked on a run of minor-league success in 1971 at the age of 52. He managed Washington’s Triple-A affiliate at Denver to an American Association West Division title in 1971. Denver shifted to Spokane of the Pacific Coast League the next year and the day after the PCL season ended, Wilber was named interim manager of the Rangers until they hired Billy Martin.

Always an organization man, he returned to Spokane and quietly led the Indians to another West Division title, and another three-game sweep of the East Division winner, this time Albuquerque, in the 1974 PCL Playoffs. 

Del rejoined the Minnesota organization and reprised his role as a scout and Instructional League manager in 1976 and 1977. Though he never returned to the dugout, he worked in baseball for another decade as a scout for the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers, until he retired from baseball in 1986, at the age of 67.

In his final years, while his wife suffered with Alzheimer’s disease, he endured a variety of ailments that included a broken wrist, a hip that required replacement, prostate, lung, and bone cancer, and congestive heart failure.

Del Wilber passed away in St. Petersburg, Florida, on July 18, 2002 at age 83.