Year Inducted: 1949 (Veterans Committee)
Does it really come down to luck? Is it possible the only thing that gets players into the Hall of Fame and makes them immortal is simply the winding of fate? Is that the only thing that prevents some of the older players from being recognized, while lesser players have been inducted? Baseball experienced a boom in popularity in the early 1900’s thanks to the newspaper industry. Now, more than ever, people were not just going to games, but also reading about them and the players. This happened right around 1905, and most players from before then were very quickly shoved further and further back in the collective conscience. One of the ones who suffered the most from this was Kid Nichols.
Nichols pitched in parts of 15 seasons mostly with the Boston Beaneaters (Braves). He pitched over 5000 innings with 361 wins, 208 loses and an ERA of 2.95. Nichols started 561 times and completed 531 games. That’s unbelievable. Part of it was the mound distance–the mound used to be much closer to the plate than 60.5 feet, so pitchers didn’t have to put as much strain on their arms. Pitchers also were allowed to toss underhand during some of his career as well, also limiting the strain. Nichols was able to rack up nearly 2000 strikeouts in his career, and limited hitters to a .256 batting average with a WHIP of 1.22.
Nichols was the youngest player to reach 300 wins, and won 30 or more games in a season a record seven times. He finished his career in 1906 ranking 3rd in wins behind Cy Young and Pud Galvin. This actually highlights how good he was, as both of them had over 1000 more innings than he did, with Galvin only having 3 more wins and Young being Cy Young. Nichols was also retroactively credited with more saves than either of them, and had significantly fewer losses to boot. He also ranked 5th in strikeouts and 3rd in innings.
Nichols is not without his faults, as is the case with nearly every Hall of Famer. He missed a couple of years at the end of his career while managing in another league, and walked nearly as many as he struck out. But, the fact that he shouldered that many innings, with as good of results as he had (ERA- of 73 and a FIP- of 86) makes him a Hall of Famer absolutely.
So, why did he have to wait? As mentioned earlier, the popularity of the game started spiking towards the very end of his career, making it difficult for writers to remember him. Thankfully, many Hall of Famers including Young and Ty Cobb campaigned for his induction, succeeding in 1949. It also didn’t help that, despite how beloved he was (especially in Boston), he wasn’t the flamboyant personality of other players from his day, making him easy to forget.
It’s all academic at this point though, isn’t it? Nichols got what he deserves-a plaque in the Hall of Fame and immortality. His luck eventually turned around.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/9/16: This Hall of Fame Shortstop, along with being a great defender, was also Larry Doby’s manager on the Indians.