Wilson earned a reputation with a strong, deadly accurate throwing arm, leading NL outfielders in assists in 1985 and 1986 with 18 and 20, respectively. He was a first-round draft choice (eighth overall) of the Tigers in the June 1980 free-agent draft and hit a career-high .292 as a rookie for Detroit in 1982.
After a dismal 1984 with the Phillies, Wilson began wearing glasses in 1985 and drove in 102 runs, earning a spot on the All-Star team. His production fell off in 1987, and he was traded to the Mariners, who shipped him to the Pirates after a disappointing half-season in Seattle. He reestablished himself as a regular in 1989 and was traded to the Astros in mid-season for Billy Hatcher.