Tag Archives: Hugh Nicol

Hugh Nicol

25 Aug

In 1884 Hugh “Little Nic” Nicol was one of the most popular members of the St. Louis Browns—so popular, a local boy’s team named themselves after the right fielder, and the Nicol was invited to address the team.

Hugh Nicol

Hugh Nicol

A reporter for The St. Louis Critic was on hand when Nicol imparted his baseball wisdom to the kids:

“I’m no speech maker, but if you like I’ll give you a pointer or two, and you can take ‘em or leave ‘em, just as you like.  First, when you go to the bat don’t sneak up there, but pick up your club determined like, and look at the pitcher as you’d look at a mosquito which you had the dead wood on.  Then when he curls the ball away, up around your left year duck your head, look mad and whisper, ‘Oh, you sucker you know better than to give me a good ball.’  That’s what you call workin’ the pitcher—makin’ him mad as a bull—so mad that he’ll put the ball just where you say he can’t put it, but where you know he’s going to put it, and when he puts it there smash her right in the eye.

“Then when you’ve smashed her, don’t stop and admire the smash, but make for first as though the devil was trying catch hold of your coat tails.  When you reach first don’t stop unless you hear the captain yell: ‘Hole yer first; hole it!’  If he yells ‘hole it,’ obey orders.  Don’t think you know more than him, because if you get to thinkin’ that way your head will begin to swell, and all the ice in St. Louis won’t take down the swellin’ If you only reach first, place your arms akimbo and look at the pitcher as though you had got there by a fluke and was going to hold to her if it was the last act.  If you are a runner, and not one of those tired cusses that crawl when they think they’re flyin’.

“Make for second the moment he pitches the ball; and when you get near the bag, grab hold of it and come up smilin’ at the umpire , as though you meant to say “Oh, I beat the ball about a foot, and he never touched me anyhow.’  If you work it right the umpire will sing out, ‘Hole yer second!’

“But, fellers if you can’t run when you reach first stay there and thank God you got that far.  Don’t try to make second for if you do the catcher will make a bloomin’ gillie out of you.  But make out that you are a dandy on the run, and bob up and down like a bear dancing on a red hot stove.  That kind of business works up the pitcher and he’ll try to catch you nappin’, but instead he’ll fire the ball away over the first baseman’s head.  Then if you can run a little bit you can get all the way ‘round.  But take care that he don’t catch you nappin’.  If he does that the captain will call you a bum base runner and you’ll feel like clubbin’ the life out of yourself.”

Thirty-five years later, Nicol attended an old-timers banquet at the Great Northern Hotel in Chicago and spoke with Al Spink, then occasionally writing for The Chicago Evening Post.  Spink called Nicol “the smallest and most wonderful right fielder in America.”

Nicol, like most of his 19th Century brethren, thought his old teammates were better than current players:

“I can’t see where the game has improved a bit since we played it…and I can’t see where the players of today are any better than our old gang…I don’t see any players cavorting around on the diamond today that are any better than the Browns’ old infield when it was composed of (Charles) Comiskey, (William “Yank”) Robinson, (Arlie) Latham and (Bill) Gleason…Where are there any better players than our old Chicago infield—(Cap) Anson, (Fred) Pfeffer, (Ned) Williamson and (Tom)Burns?”

1885 St. Louis Browns--Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

1885 St. Louis Browns–Nicol is on the far right of the bottom row.

Nicol also objected to the way the game was played:

“(W)here is there the  enthusiasm and the effort to win that was in evidence in the days when we played?

“Nowadays a player often goes to the bat acting like a man who has lost an immediate member of his family.

“We used to go up smiling and acting as though we were certain of clouting out a homer, although we often fell down on the proposition.

“And then, too, many of your players of today make little attempt to advance themselves in the various departments of play.

“They do not half try to learn all the fine points of the game as we did in the days of old, but simply try to get by.  They are content if they get a couple of hits every afternoon and play an errorless game.  The first thing they do each morning is to get the newspaper and look at the hit and error columns.  If they don’t see themselves credited with a hit perhaps they did make, some sports writer gets a terrible panning.”

Nicol managed in the Three-I League and later  coached baseball and served as athletic director at Purdue University from 1906 until 1914—he resigned both positions in November of 1914 after a dispute with his football coach Andy Smith and Smith’s assistant Pete Vaughn (who was also Purdue’s basketball coach).

Nicol 1904

Nicol 1904

Nicol was often credited by contemporary sports writers with inventing the head-first slide.

He died in Lafayette, Indiana in 1921.

The Curve and The Spitter

26 Jun

Hugh A. “Hughey” Reid only appeared in one professional game; he went 0-4 and played right field in a game for the American Association’s Baltimore Canaries against the White Stockings in Chicago in August of 1874,  as was the practice at the time, Baltimore recruited Reid, a local semi-pro player to fill in for the injured Oscar Bielaski.

Reid wasn’t known in the amateur and semi-pro leagues in Chicago as an outfielder.  He was considered one of the best pitchers in town, and played for the Chicago Aetnas, one of the premier teams in the city, and according to The Chicago Tribune “The champion amateur team of 1869.”

Hugh Reid

Hugh Reid

Among Reid’s teammates with the Aetnas were future big leaguers Jimmy Hallinan and Reid’s brother-in-law and catcher Paddy Quinn.

Reid worked as a stereotyper (made metal printing plates), for The Chicago Evening Post after his career ended.

In 1920, Reid was interviewed by Alfred Henry “Al” Spink, founder of The Sporting News.  By 1920, Spink, who had played amateur baseball in Chicago against Reid with a team called the Mutuals (named for the more famous aggregation in New York), had relocated to Chicago and was writing for The Evening Post.

Al Spink

Al Spink

The occasion was “field day exercises of the old timers” at Pyott Park at the corner of Lake Street and Kilpatrick Avenue in Chicago; the days events were followed by a banquet.  “Cap” Anson, Charles Comiskey, Hugh Nicol, and Fred Pfeffer were among the dozens of former pro, semi-pro, and amateur players who attended.

Spink described the 70-year-old Reid; “same old smile, same old swagger, same old don’t care a tinker’s, same old Hughey.”

Nine years earlier Spink had credited William Arthur “Candy” Cummings with originating the curveball in his book “The National Game,” but by 1920 others were making the case for different candidates.  Spink asked Reid his opinion:

“Without a doubt Cummings was the first pitcher to put the curve on the ball.

“As Cummings was using the outcurve as early as 1867, and Bobby Matthews only broke into the game at Baltimore in 1869, there is very little doubt as to who discovered the art of curving.

“In fact, it was not until years later, when the rules allowed the pitchers to raise their arm above the waist, that Matthews became master of the curve.”

Candy Cummings

Candy Cummings

Reid also talked about the pitch Mathews did introduce:

“I am quite sure that Mathews was the first to work the delivery mow bearing the insanitary name

“Before delivering the ball he would rub it hard on his trousers, always on the same spot, where the seams are the farthest apart…he would draw his two fingers across his lips, take the ball with two fingers and a thumb and send it in with only fair speed.  He had perfect control and usually sent the ball about waist-high for a player calling for a low ball.  The break came just in front of the plate and the ball usually went into the ground or very high in the air.  Few line drives were made off of Mathews.”

Bobby Mathews

Bobby Mathews

Reid also talked about Alphonse Case “Phonney” Martin.  At the same time that Spink was making the case for Cummings in “The National Game,” Martin told William Aulick of The New York Globe that he developed the pitch. Aulick concluded:

“Some people say this was the first cousin of the curve ball, but they don’t say this when old Alphonse Martin is around.  He insists it wasn’t anyone’s cousin–it was Mister Curve himself.”

Reid disagreed, he described Martin’s pitch as a “freak ball,” and said:

“I first saw Martin pitch down on the old lake front grounds in Chicago against the original White Stocking team.  He simply threw a slow lob ball that came so slow you had to nearly break your back to hit it.  But, at that, his delivery was a success, and most of the balls hit from it went high in the air and came down in some fielder’s hands…He threw a slow teaser that reached the plate about shoulder-high and dropped while still spinning.”

Alphonse "Phonney" Martin

Alphonse “Phonney” Martin

Reid insisted Martin’s pitch was not a curve:

“Cummings and Cummins alone was the originator of the curve.”