Bill Nicholson

Whenever Nicholson took one of his tremendous swings, fans would yell, “Swish!” Started by Brooklyn fans, it was a sign of respect because the big cut often resulted in a home run. Nicholson was struck out his share of times, as sluggers are; he led the league with a modest 83 strikeouts in 1947. The muscular outfielder struggled as Athletics property after signing out of Washington College. Sent to the minors, he was helped by Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler, his manager at Chattanooga (Southern League) and later a Cub coach. Cuyler instructed him to open his stance, get set for each pitch, and stop lunging at the ball. During 1939, Nicholson’s second straight season as a minor league home run champ, he was purchased by the Cubs.

During talent-starved WWII Nicholson’s batting feats became legend. He once hit a ball that just missed the Wrigley Field scoreboard; only Roberto Clemente came as close. After hitting four consecutive homers in a July 23, 1944 doubleheader at the Polo Grounds, he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, on orders from Giants manager Mel Ott. (Up 12-9 at the time, the Giants won 12-10.) He led the NL with 29 HR and 128 RBI in 1943 and with 33 HR and 122 RBI in 1944, when he scored a league-high 116 runs and lost MVP honors by one vote to Marty Marion.

Although Nicholson helped the Cubs to the 1945 pennant, his failing eyesight resulted in a slip in production. He was aided somewhat when the seats in Wrigley’s centerfield were blocked off. Cubs fans were furious when he was traded to the Phillies after the 1948 season for Harry “The Hat” Walker. After he became weak and lost weight, it was disclosed on Labor Day, 1950, that Nicholson was diabetic. He was unable to play in the World Series with his “Whiz Kids” teammates. He hung on until 1953, primarily as a pinch hitter. He retired with eight pinch homers, and as one of the game’s toughest men to double up – he hit into double plays only once every 90.7 at-bats.