Kid Nichols, In His Own Words
This document, never before published and largely unknown even to exist, may not contain startling revelations and indeed may be a mere historical curiosity. And yet … it is new, and the voice is that of Hall of Fame pitcher Charles Augustus “Kid” Nichols (1869-1953). It is appropriate to publish this thirty-page handwritten fragment on this day, as the All-Star Game is about to be played in Kansas City. That where the Kid lived from 1881 until his death, excluding the years of his professional ballplaying career.
The Nichols fragment resided in the files of the Baseball Hall of Fame since the 1950s. It was first published in Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, in the Fall 2010 issue, and is reprinted here with the permission of the publisher, McFarland and Company. The annotations in italics are the work of Bill Felber, estimable scholar and old friend. Typographical and orthographic oddities have been preserved.
The Nichols Transcript
Charles Augustus Nichols
Born in Madison Wisconsin on Sept 14, 1869.
My father was Robert Livingston Nichols born in the State of New York 1819.
My mother was Christina Skinner Nichols born in Vermont [ca. 1831].
My nationality American.
I had 2 brothers, William H. Nichols [born c. 1858] GeorgeW. Nichols [born c. 1861] and 4 sisters, Sarah [surname illegible; born c. 1856] (still living in K.C. age 93) Fanny Nichols [burned? illegible] to death at age of 9 [born 1859] Jessie Nickells of Ridgewood, N. Jersey [born c. 1866] Dora Northrup [?] of Kansas City. Mo. 1 half brotherJohn Nichols of Oshkosh,
Wisconsin 1[half ] sister Libby Griffeth of Cleveland, Ohio
I only attended the Ward schools.
My parents moved our family to Kansas City, Mo. About 1881.
I began playing base ball on the corner lots, and in Amateur games.
The first team I played on, was the Blue Ave. Club of Kansas City, MO in 1886.
In 1886, When I was 16 years old, Being confident in my ability as a ball player, I was determined to get on a Base Ball team.
The Kansas City ball club was in the National League. I applied for trial with them, and with two other National League clubs, but was turned down. (guess they must have taken me for a bat boy.)
That year Kansas City finished last.
[Nichols can perhaps be forgiven an old man’s pride at his recollection that the Kansas City National League team’s sentence for failing to recognize his budding talent was a term in the league basement. Although the club known then as the Cowboys was dreadful—they actually came home seventh in the eight-team National League. Washington (28 –92, .233) was even worse. The 1886 season was Kansas City’s first in the National League; the club emerged as a last-minute substitute for Indianapolis, which was to have joined the league until that city’s backers failed to come up with the necessary cash. Nichols may have been wrong about the team’s standing, but he was right about the pitching. The Cowboys allowed a league-high 872 runs in 1886, roughly seven per game. Kansas City was ousted from the NL after 1886, shifting to the Western League for one season and then to the American Association.]
In 1887 I again applied to the K.C. club, who were then in the Western League.
They also refused me.
On June 1st they were short of pitchers They, then sent for me.
June 10th I joined the K.C. club in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The first game I pitched for them I won.
In fact, I won the first 5 games I pitched fo the K.C. club.
The manager was named Paterson [J.B. Patterson, a newspaperman who took over for Joe Ellick on May 20, 1887]
At the end of the season, I was told I could go where I pleased for the next season.
In 1888 I joined the Memphis Team, in the Southern League.
Their manager was Jimmy Woods. [better known as Jimmy Wood, who had played for and managed Chicago in the National Association]
My first game was an exhibition game against The “Old St. Louis Browns 4 times winners.” I beat them 5 to 3.
The Southern League disbanded July 1st with Memphis in 1st Place.
[The assertion requires clarification. There were actually two Kansas City “clubs” in 1888. The Cowboys, which emerged as a descendant of the 1886 team of the same name, joined the American Association—considered a major league—that season, and also operated as an A.A. team in 1889. That team was owned by Joseph J. Heim, the same man who had operated the 1886 NL franchise. But Nichols did not join the Cowboys; instead, he signed with the Blues, which operated in the newly formed Western League. With Nichols’ 1.14 earned run average leading the league, the Blues fought the Des Moines Prohibitionists in a pennant race whose outcome is in dispute even today. Kansas City’s .644 winning percentage was actually two points worse than that of Des Moines, but the Blues claimed the pennant because at 76 –42 their record was one-half game better than Des Moines’ 73–40.]
The manager was Jimmy Manning.
I finished the season with them winning 18 games out of 20.
[Nichols was good in 1888, but not quite that good. The best modern accounting credits him with a record of 16–2, not 18–2. In his own accounting (see below) he recorded a mark with Kansas City that year of 12–2.]
In 1889 I was sold to the St. Joe team in the Western League.
They would not meet my terms. Wanting to pay less than I had been receiving.
After a length of time, I was free to make other arrangements.
So I signed with Omaha Nebraska in the Western League.
Frank Selee was their manager.
Here I won 40 games out of 48.
[The official record credits Nichols with a record of 39–8 for the Omaha Omahogs in 1889. He also led the league in strikeouts, with 368.]
In Omaha we played under the 4 strikes rule.
[Pitching rules changed frequently during the 1880s and early 1890s, both at the major and minor league levels. The number of balls and strikes required to retire a batter or award him first b se had been tinkered with over the decade; at the major league level the number of strikes required to retire a better would settle in at three, finally, after the 1887 season.]
At end of season I was sold to the Boston Club in the National League.
In 1890, I married Jane [also known as Jennie or Janey] Curtin of Kansas City, Mo. She died in 1933.
I have a daughter, Alice, who was born in Boston, Mass. [in 1891]
She married Dr. Harlan L. Everett, a dentist of Kansas City Mo. He passed away in 1949.
It is with my daughter, I make my home.
I have a grandson, Harlan L. Everett Jr. of Kansas City, Kansas. He served in World War II in Air Corps, and a grand[d]aughter, Jane E. Jones, of Larchmont, N.Y. who was formerly a danser. Having appeared in two Broadway shows, and been a member of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, N.Y.
I have 5 greatgrandchildren.
Sandra Nichols Everett of K.C. Kans. 8 yrs.
Sharon Ann Everett of K.C. Kans. 6 yrs.
Harlan L. Everett III of K.C. Kans. 3yrs.
Thomas Gregory Jones of Larchmont, Ny.Y. 4 yrs.
Catherine Lynn Jones of Larchmont, N.Y. 1 yr.
When I first joined the Kansas City Club, at 17 years of age, being of light build, I looked even younger.
The public and the newspapers called me “Kid.” This name has remained with me throughout the years. I’m best known as Charles “Kid” Nichols.
And so in 1890, I reported to the Boston Nationals, with Frank Selee again my manager. You see he took me there with him.
And it was with Boston I remained until 1902.
It was Charley Bennett who caught me most of my games that first year.
I always pitched and batted right handed.
I threw an overhand ball.
Never used a swing in my delivery.
Always pitched straight away.
Using same delivery when men were on base.
Never did I use trick pitching.
To quote from the Kansas City World of 1893.
“Kid” is a hard worker from the word “go.” When in the tightest places he pitches his best game.
He always works to win, and never loses his head. He is the kind of a player that elevates the profession, and if all the players were like the “Kid,” baseball would soon regain its old time popularity. The features of his pitching are speed, headwork, and control of the ball. He has never been troubled with a glass arm, which he attributes to the fact that he delivers the ball with a long easy swing and not a jerk.
From the Ohio State Journal, 1899, signed.
“‘Kid’ Nichols is a monument. He’s other things, too, but he’s a living, breathing effective argument to all ball players of what they might be if they took proper care of themselves. For nine years he has figured as the star twirler of the Boston team without being supplanted, and he seems likely to be there in 1907, for his is not his worst season by any means.
[“]He is always ready for work, never out of condition, and doesn’t know an ailment. He lives up to requirements of his duties, and, though not a physical giant (being rather under the average build of a ball player.) is careful to violate no rule of hygiene or deviate from the rigidity of his chosen course.”
In 1899, Charley Bennett, the great catcher said. (copied)
“There is nothing very peculiar about his delivery. He stands right up in the box and throws many straight balls. He has wonderful control over the ball and every one is right around the plate. They don’t get many bases on balls with him. Most of the balls which Nichols throws are either fast or slow straight balls. His delivery for both fast or slow ball is so nearly alike that only a man who catches him right along or watches him constantly can tell what he is going to throw.
[“]His favorite method is to throw fast balls and switch off to slow ones constantly to keep a batter puzzling over what he is going to do. He will give it just a little upward movement or outward shoot of not more than a few inches, but it takes a very quick eye to gauge it.”
I was always in condition to work, and willing to go in the pitchers box.
[There was no such thing as a “disabled list” in the 1890s. But the statistics we do have support Nichols’ assertion on the latter point. During the course of his 15-season career, he averaged 41 appearances, 37 starts and 338 innings of work. The observation regarding his motion is especially interesting with regard to his physical well-being. It is impossible, of course, to precisely quantify why Nichols proved so durable as a pitcher. But let us not lightly dismiss his own view that his simple overhand motion had much to do with it. The motion Nichols describes is today considered the least stressful pitching motion on elbow and shoulder ligaments, tendons and muscles. Beyond that, Nichols was widely understood as almost exclusively a fastball pitcher who changed speeds and relied on control for effect but rarely if ever delivered breaking balls. We tend today to oversimplify the cause of a pitcher’s arm injuries by relating it to age and perceived overwork—largely because the simplest among us can quantify “overwork.” That’s what the ongoing hysteria regarding pitch counts is all about. Consider that Nichols threw 424 innings at age 20 and 2,134 innings by his 25th birthday … and did so while experiencing no significant arm injury before, during, or after that workload. We can arbitrarily assert that work conditions were “different” then, but that is largely untrue. Modern pitching rules were in full effect by the season of 1893, when Nichols, who was 24, threw 425 innings. Unless we make Nichols out to be a freak of nature, or unless we categorize opposing hitters as incompetents, the most logical solution is that his motion minimized the actual physical strains imposed on the act of throwing a baseball in ways that are largely forgotten today. In fact few pitchers today employ the kind of straight overhand motion Nichols describes; many use an almost horizontal delivery that can maximize dangerous elbow and shoulder torque and lead to injury.]
I never drank or dissipated in any way during my baseball career or since.
Occasionally I filled in the outfield. Once or twice I even played first base, on account of sickness.
[Nichols played 11 major league games in left field, three in center field, and six in right field. He also played six games at first base, one in 1898 and five in 1901. He did not, however, play first base against New York in 1899.]
The salary limit in those days in the National League was $2400.
Expenses while traveling were paid by the Club same as they are today.
So I had no chance to build up a nice nest egg for my years of retirement as the players of today can do.
We had no trainers in those days. Instead, we were trained by the managers.
Major league ball parks I played in other than the ones used today were,
Walpole Grounds Boston.
Old Polo Grounds, NY, Where Rusie + I had a famous battle.
National [Natural] Bridge Rd. + Vandeventer line in St. Louis.
Allegheny Park in Pittsburg.
Old Congress St. Grounds in Chicago.
Comiskey Park in Chicago.
Broadstreet Park in Philadelphia.
[The seven parks named by Nichols represent only a partial list of the ballparks in which he played. Here is the complete list, organized by city.
Baltimore: Union Park.
Boston: South End Grounds I (Walpole Street Grounds), Congress Street Grounds, South End Grounds II.
Brooklyn: Washington Park.
Chicago: Congress Street Grounds, West Side Park, South Side Park. Nichols confuses South Side Park with Comiskey Park, which was constructed on the site of South Side Park, but which was not opened until four years after his retirement from baseball.
Cincinnati: League Park I, League Park II, Palace of the Fans.
Cleveland: National League Park, League Park.
Louisville: Eclipse Park I, Eclipse Park II.
New York: Polo Grounds II, Polo Grounds III
Philadelphia: Philadelphia Baseball Grounds, Baker Bowl. Nichols’ reference to “Broadstreet Park” is likely a reference to Baker Bowl, which was located at the corner of Huntingdon and Broad Streets.
Pittsburgh: Exposition Park. This park was situated near the Alleghany River, a fact that may account for Nichols’ terming it Allegheny Park.
As to the battle with Amos Rusie: On May 12, 1890, these two most feared pitchers met in a game that cemented both of their legends. Nichols was a 20-year-old rookie just one month into his big league career and Rusie a 19-year-old in only his second season. For 12 innings the prodigies, both ranked among the game’s hardest throwers, handcuffed their opponents. Both limited their opposition to just three hits, Rusie striking out 11 and Nichols 10. The issue was finally settled in the bottom of the 13th inning when Giants outfielder Mike Tiernan drove a one-strike pitch into the center field bleachers for a game-winning home run. The victory was one of 29 for Rusie that season; Nichols won 27 games.]
My best batting day, was one day when I was with Boston Nationals. I believe the game was against Baltimore or Cincinnatti. That day I got 2 Home Runs and 2 doubles.
[SABR’s home run log reveals no two-homer days for Nichols, and among his 16 career home runs one was hit against Cincinnati on July 6, 1901, when his homer accounted for Boston’s only run in a 4–1 loss. That might leave the day he hit one against Baltimore: September 19, 1892, when Nichols pitched and won a 14–11 slugfest. But in that game Nichols had only two hits, a homer and a triple.]
As a fielder my record always stood out.
I consider Billy Keeler, Mike Tiernan, Ed Delihanty and Larrie La Joie the toughest hitters I had to pitch to, but I did not dread them.
Remember Hughie Duffy was a member of our team, so I did not face him. In my opinion, Duffy was the greatest hitter.
In 1902, I asked for my release from Boston to manage the Kansas City Club in the Western League.
[Under Nichols, the Kansas City Blue Stockings went 82–54, beating the Omaha Indians (84–56) by three percentage points. Nichols, by the way, was his own best pitcher. His 27 victories and .794 winning percentage were both league highs. Interestingly, the Milwaukee Creams, managed by former Nichols teammate Hugh Duffy, finished third, one game behind Kansas City and Omaha. Nichols managed Kansas City again in 1903, but the Blue Stockings (65–61) fell to third place, 18 games behind Duffy’s Creams.]
This they granted, and I retuned to my home town and won the Pennant.
In 1903, The Big Flood of this district, caused financial losses. So the Western League consolidated with the American Asociation and I lost out.
I then went to St. Louis Nationals, which I managed and played with in 1904.
In 1905, Difficulties with one of the owners. Caused me to ask for my release in mid year.
I then signed up with Philadelphia Nationals whose player manager was Hugh Duffy.
In 1906 I developed pleurisy and was unable to get into condition.So I asked for my release and obtained it.
So ended my Major League Career.
Through the years I only met with two serious accidents.
Wile playing with Boston. In an exhibition game in Waterbury, Conn. I was practicing in outfield. A batted ball hit a stone and bounced up and hit me on the nose, breaking it.
Then in Denver 1902. Before the game, while at practice, a bat slipped out of a player’s hand and hit me on the head. It cut a gash one and one half inches long. I was taken to a doctor’s office to have it sewed up. I returned to the park with my head so swathed in bandages I was unable to wear my cap. In the 7th inning I had to go into the game. (the umpire had ordered the pitcher out of the game on account of arguing) Our other pitcher was unable to pitch on account of the climate so there was nothing else to do but to go in and finish the game. We won the game, which gave us the pennant.
In summing up the Championship Base Ball teams I was a member of, They were.
1888 Memphis Tenn.
1889 Omaha Neb.
1891–1892–1893–1897–1898. Boston Nationals.
1902. Kansas City, Western League.
[The Memphis Grays actually finished second in the Southern League in 1888, five and one-half games behind Birmingham. Nichols did, however, have the satisfaction of leading the league in strikeouts, with 84.]
I consider the Boston National Champions of 1891–’92–’93–’97 and 1898 the greatest Base Ball Club of all time.
I have always smoked cigars.
My life time pitching average was .665. Winning percentage in Big League for 12 years.
[Nichols is today credited with 361 major league victories, and 208 defeats, over 15 seasons. That translates to a .634 winning percentage. His is at this writing tied for sixth with Jim Galvin on the all-time list of winningest pitchers, trailing Cy Young (511), Walter Johnson (417), Grover Cleveland Alexander (373), Christy Mathewson (373), and Warren Spahn (363). The discrepancy between his assessment of his record and the official one does not involve a dispute over any given season, but rather a series of small adjustments or miscalculations over the course of his career. In 1893, for instance, Nichols credited himself with a record of 33 wins, 10 losses; officially he was 34–14. He listed his 1894 record as 33–12; in fact he was 32–13. These sorts of disputes were not uncommon in the late 19th Century, when the rules for scorekeeping were not as firmly set as they are today. For example, the 1898 Spalding Guide listed Nichols’ record for the previous season as 31–12. Nichols himself listed it as 33–11. The modern record book puts him at 31–11 in 1897.]
One event, I do not think has been equaled by any other pitcher.
In 1892. On August 23rd The Boston Club played a double header with St. Louis in Kansas City Mo. I pitched one of these games. Winning 5 to 3.
On August 24th Boston played another double header, this time in St. Louis. I pitched one of the games, and won 3 to 1.
On August 25th. Boston played in Louisville, Ky. Against the Louisville Club. I pitched winning 6 to 1.
[Nichols’ recollection of his achievement of winning three games in three days is essentially in accord with the facts. He errs only in describing the August 24 events in St. Louis as a double-header; in fact, only a single game was played, with Nichols beating Pink Hawley 3–1. Whether three victories in three day—won while allowing five runs—represents an unequaled achievement is a matter for debate. There are at least two other well-known pitching achievements which, if not identical in the details, are in some aspects more remarkable. In September of 1908, Walter Johnson pitched shutouts against New York in three consecutive games played over four days. Later that month, Chicago Cubs pitcher Ed Reulbach shut out the Brooklyn Dodgers in both ends of a double-header, allowing a total of just six hits.]
The following words are as near accurate, I believe as can be figured. [Mathematical and other errors preserved; Nichols neglects his four games pitched with Philadelphia in 1906, with a record of 0–1.]
“The three best consecutive years of pitching (a total of 60 or more games) he placed ‘Kid’ Nichols 1st with. Games 35–33–32 total 100 av. 33.3 Those are years 1892–93 + 94 Which shows 33 on our record.”
[This claim is simple hyperbole. Nichols is today credited with 101 victories during the 1892–1894 seasons. Here is a not necessarily complete list of pitchers who won that many or more games in three consecutive seasons: Charles Radbourn, 140 wins in 1882–1884; Jim Galvin, 120 wins in that same period; John Clarkson, 127 wins in 1885–1887; Mickey Welch, 116 wins in 1884–1886; Tim Keefe, 112 wins in 1886–1888; Tony Mullane, 105 wins in 1883–1885, and Larry Corcoran, 101 wins in 1880–1882.]
“In average Victories per year.
Nichols places 2nd with 14 years for 25.4 Ave games Won, Radurne is first with 11 yrs.”
“In 3 consecutive years rated according to best percentages of games won.
Nichols is 7th. W. 92 L. 34 Ave 731.
I do not know the years.”
“In the Thousand strike out Artist.
Nichols is 6th with 14 years. 1820 S O. 130 Ave.”
[The years, of course, have not been kind to Nichols in this category. He is officially credited with 1,881 strikeouts, a total that stands him outside the top 75 all time. The leader is Nolan Ryan with 5,714. The first name on the list when Nichols penned his notes, Walter Johnson (3,509), now ranks 9th.]
“Of pitchers who have won .600 of their games ‘Kid’ Nichols ranked 12th.”
In 1892, Boston Nationals won 102 lost 48.
The same year Nichols pitched 51 games or 1/3rd of the games played. Winning 35 and lost 16.
By the way. Remember these were 9 inning games as a rule. Not 1 innings as so often is quoted today.
[Nichols was durable in part because his managers had few other options. In the 1890s, teams rarely carried more than four or five pitchers at any given time. Even so, Nichols can be forgiven a boast about his durability. His 562 starts included 532 complete games, a 95 percent rate. For comparison, Bob Feller, a pitcher similar to Nichols in stature and style at the time he wrote these notes, started 228 games between 1940 and 1950 and completed 171 of them. That is a 75 percent rate.]
[The numbers tell a slightly different story. Nichols was one of the principals in 131, not 110, games that were decided by one run. While he did win 75 of those games, that leaves 56—not 35—defeats for a .573 winning percentage that is below his overall .634 percentage. Counter-intuitively, Nichols was not particularly successful in one-run games while pitching for pennant winning teams. In Boston’s five championship seasons—1891, ’92, ’93, ’97 and ’98—his cumulative record in one-run games was just 23–21. For some reason, Nichols was at his best in tight games when he pitched with poorer clubs behind him. In 1904, Nichols’ Cardinals finished fifth with a record of 75–79. Yet Nichols won 11 of the 14 games he pitched that were decided by a single run. In 1894, when the three-time defending champion Beaneaters slumped to third place, Nichols won nine of 11 one-run decisions. In 1890 he was 8–4 in one-run games for a fifth place Boston club.]
“Nichols blanked his opponents 50 times and had 110 games where he held the opposition to 5 hits or less per game.” [He is today credited with 48 shutouts.]
Mr. J. F. Rollins, who assembled these records, makes base ball his hobby. And his records of other ball players. I have other interesting data he has assembled for me. A record of the other pitchers on my teams with our standings.
“Year of of 1890. Youngest man to win 27 games his first year in the big league. Was 20 years old.”
“Young and Nichols both started in 1890 and pitched 1890–91–92 at 50 foot pitching distance.
In 1893–94–95 and after at the present 60 ft distance.”
Took up golf in 1908 winning one city championship.
Gave up Golf + Bowling in 1947 under Doctor’s orders.
During the years I played base ball, I followed several different fields of work in the winter.
I coached Amherst and Brown College each one season.
Sold gents furnishings one winter in Boston, at [text absent].
I Backed my brothers in the Laundry business in Kansas City. But the one who was managing it died, so I sold out.
During my Base ball years, my favorite exercise in the winter was bowling.
About 1892. I helped organize the first bowling league formed in K.C.
In 1895 I was a member of a team that rolled 2665 which was considered the record of the U.S. at that time.
So what was more natural, than for me to go into the bowling business.
In 1908. I was called to Oshkosh to manage their team in the Wisconsin, Illinois League.
For several summers I had a base ball team, the “Kid Nichol Kids” in the Inter City League, in K.C. Mo.
[The most prominent alum of the Kid Nichols Kids was almost certainly a local kid named Charles Dillon Stengel, later known to the world as Casey. Nichols liked to tell the story that Stengel, a neighborhood kid, came up to his house one day and asked the famed athlete “how can I become a big league ballplayer?” “Join my team,” Nichols said he replied. Stengel did and within a few years was playing outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Nichols also developed a relationship with fellow Kansas Citian andChicago Cubs catcher Johnny Kling. An accomplished pool player in his spare time, Kling had opened a billiards hall that, by 1909, became very profitable. So the catcher staged a one-season retirement from the Cubs, returned to Kansas City to run his pool hall, and helped Nichols with his semi-pro team in the interim. When the three-time champion Cubs lost the 1909 pennant, many in Chicago blamed the defeat on Kling’s defection. There may have been more than partisan grumbling to it:Kling returned to the Cubs in 1910, and they won their fourth pennant in five years.]
I also had several bowling teams known as the “Kid Nichols Kids.” The one in 1909 Won the Mid West Bowling Championship in St. Joseph Mo.
In 1935 I was City Bowling Champion.
About 1912 I changed from the bowling business to the Picture Show game. Not having success in it, I traveled, booking pictures for a while.
I also have sold insurance.
My board was operated in Convention Hall and at the Kansas City Star to great success until Radio came in.
In 1915 I coached the Missouri Valley College Base Ball team.
I have attended two of the Old Timer games—1922 and 1939.
About 1921 I went back to the bowling game as manager.
This I continued in until 1947 when I was retired because of my age.
Receiving the honor which came my way in 1949. Namely to be entered into Base Ball’s Hall of Fame has been one of the happiest periods of my life.
In 1927 I became a member of the Co-Operative Club of Kansas City Mo. It is a Civic Club.
After I was nominated to the Hall of Fame, My club gave a party and voted me an Honorary Member of the Club.
[And thus the story ends.]