Nellie Fox was the reason I became a White Sox fan all those years ago. Maybe it was all those stories my mom would tell about having met Nellie long ago when she lived in Jamestown, New York, where Nellie spent some time in the minor league on his way “up” to the big time. Or maybe it was the hustle and spirit that Nellie always put forth for so many seasons at second base.
Maybe it was the strange “bottle bat” he used—something very different from what any of us guys used in our little league or pony league games each summer. Maybe it was the fact that he was one of the first White Sox players I saw, up close and in person, on my very first visit to Comiskey Park.
Nellie was easy to spot out there, even though he was rather small, but his hang-tough way of playing second base—turning the double-play with partner Looie Aparicio, and before him Chico Carrasquel—was sheer poetry!
Maybe it was the omnipresent chaw of Red Man Tobacco that was as much a trademark of Nellie as was his bottle bat, but that was just another part of Nellie. When it came to playing the game, there was no one tougher or better than Nellie Fox in the clutch or when something needed to get done to win the game.
Ask any pitcher from that era, and they would most readily agree that Nellie was one of the hardest guys in the game to get out. He led the league thirteen times with the fewest strikeouts. He never really hit with power—35 homers for his career—but he hit singles and doubles and was the premier bunter in the league. He was good enough to lead the American League in hits four times!
I wish I could have seen more of Nellie, even though the years I did see him play for the White Sox were pretty good ones. Those early sixties seasons were full of adventure and game-to-game drama. When he was traded to the Houston Colt 45s (later Astros) in 1964, I was very depressed and felt as though something important in my life had been taken away.
There in Houston he helped a rookie second baseman by the name of Joe Morgan get his career off to a start that would ultimately rise to stellar heights. Nellie retired as a player in 1965 and as a coach for the Texas Rangers in 1973.
I miss Nellie if for no other reason than he epitomizes the impressionable days of my youth. Those were times when I truly believed that the Sox would beat out the Yankees every year—the hell with reality!—and that players such as Nellie Fox and the guys around him wanted to win every time they stepped on the field. I actually believed that, naive as I was then, and I guess I kind of still do. At least I’d like to think Nellie and those that followed on the Sox teams through the years had one goal in mind. I’ve been disappointed time and again, but the glow of Nellie’s spirit somehow makes it all good and keeps me returning each spring for another “adventure” filled with typical White Sox game-to-game drama.
At any rate, number 2 is permanently retired, as it should be, and Nellie will always be my favorite!
See you at the ballpark!