Add Hall of Famer Charles “Kid” Nichols to the list of those who were convinced that players from an earlier era were of better quality than those “of today,” even if the earlier era was less than a decade before.
While pitching for the Kansas City Blue Stockings in the Western League in 1903, the 33-year-old pitcher told a group which included a reporter for The Associated Press:
“I am not so sure that the ball players of today are much superior to those of ten years ago in general utility. It seems to me there was more life and spirit in the games of a decade ago than in those of the present regime. They weren’t so mercenary in those days and there was much more sportsmanlike spirit. Nowadays the paramount question with the average player is salary. He doesn’t care so much about the record of the team he plays with makes as opportunities offered him to make himself individually famous and thus increase the value of his services. In many clubs teamwork is lacking on account of the intense desire of some of the men to make an impressive showing by individual work. In the old days one didn’t hear so much of the individual as the playing of the team as a whole an in my opinion baseball would stand on much firmer foundation if the same spirit prevailed nowadays.”
Among the best:
“Take old (Tommy) McCarthy for instance. As an outfielder none of them had him beaten, and in my opinion there is not an outfielder his equal now. It was McCarthy who originated the trap ball which he worked so effectively.
“He was absolutely the headiest man in the outfield I ever saw. You have seen outfielders throw men out at first on line drives, but you haven’t seen it done often. I’ve seen McCarthy spoil many a legitimate one-base hit by that same play. Another favorite play of his was this: A man would be on first and second. The man at bat would drive to left. McCarthy would snap it up on a short bound and flip it to second as quick as a flash in time to catch the man who had run off first. In turn the second baseman would throw the ball to third in time to head off the man who had started from second. Thus a really legitimate one-base hit was turned into a double play.
“But, speaking of outfielders, Willie Keeler was about as good as any of them for all around ability. He was like lightning on his feet and was no slouch at hitting. He certainly did things to me one day in Baltimore. He faced me four times and this is what he did: Made four hits to four different parts of the field off of four different kinds of curves. Keeler was the hardest man to fool I ever pitched to.”
Nichols said Herman “Germany” Long, his teammate for 12 years was:
“(O)ne of the greatest shortstops in the business. He played with Boston while I was a Beaneater, and of course I had good opportunities to watch him work. He could cover a world of territory and was a sure and accurate fielder. You hear many people say that Hughie Jennings in his palmy days was the best infielder ever developed. In my opinion Long could cover a foot more territory than Jennings.
“When it comes to catchers my preference is, and always has been, Charlie Bennett, whose legs were cut off in a railroad accident at Wellsville, Kansas. Charlie was always consistent and knew what his brain was given to him for. He was also an accurate, quick thrower…Martin Bergen was another good catcher. He was the one who went crazy, you know, and murdered his wife and children. Bergen always was ‘a little bit off of the top,’ but when he took a notion to do his best, his playing was beyond criticism. Ed McFarland and (Billy) Sullivan are two right good men, and then there was reliable old Jim McGuire and Charles Zimmer, both of whom were cracker jack.”
Nichols said as a pitcher “I can hardly be considered a competent judge” of fellow “slabsters,” but continued:
“Personally, I admire the old war-horse, Cy Young, more than any of the others. He is certainly a remarkable man. Of the left-handers there a few better than (Frank “Noodles”) Hahn, of Cincinnati; (Christy) Mathewson and (Joe) McGinnity are undoubtedly valuable men. Clark Griffith is, I think, the headiest pitcher that ever stepped on a rubber. Among the other great ones are Jack Taylor, Joe Corbett, (Bill) Bernhard, of Cleveland and our own Jake Weimer.
Nichols was largely forgotten as one of baseball’s great pitchers by the time the Baseball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class was selected in 1936. In the late 1940s, a push for his inclusion was led by sportswriter Grantland Rice. Rice frequently mentioned the pitcher in his columns and in the summer of 1948 quoted two Hall of Famers regarding Nichols’ prowess:
“A few decades ago I asked Christy Mathewson to name the best pitcher he ever faced. ‘That’s easy,’ Matty answered. ‘His name is Charles Kid Nichols of Boston. Nichols isn’t a good pitcher. He is a great one.’
“I recalled this talk when the mail brought a letter from Ty Cobb at Menlo Park, California.
“‘I think everyone has overlooked one of the greatest pitchers of all time,’ Cobb Writes. ‘His name is Kid Nichols. Here are just a few of his records from 1890 to 1906:
“1. Won three consecutive games on three consecutive days, all pitched in different cities.
“2. Won 20 or more games for 10 consecutive years. He won 360 and lost 202. (Nichols’ record was 361-208)
“3. Won 28 or more games for eight consecutive seasons. (Nichols won more than 28 games seven times, and not consecutively).”
Despite the inaccuracies in the letter, Cobb and Rice continued to campaign for Nichols and the push to honor him worked. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949.