Bill Nicholson was the North Side’s favorite player during the early 1940s. His power and defense helped him be in multiple MVP conversations, made pitchers fear him, and earn respect from teammates and opponents alike. In his 16-year career, he made it to two World Series, earned five All-Star appearances,
Bill Nicholson was the North Side’s favorite player during the early 1940s. His power and defense helped him be in multiple MVP conversations, made pitchers fear him, and earn respect from teammates and opponents alike. In his 16-year career, he made it to two World Series, earned five All-Star appearances, and joined a club home to only five other players.
William Beck Nicholson was born in Chestertown, Maryland December 11, 1914. He played basketball, football, and baseball in high school, as well as in college at Washington College. He played under another legendary Chestertown native named John Thomas "The Coach" Kibler. Nicholson led his team to multiple winning seasons, as well as the championship game of the Maryland Intercollegiate Baseball League. Many consider him one of the best athletes that Washington College has ever produced, especially with a .571 batting average in 1936.
Athletics catcher Ira Thomas scouted Nicholson and sent word to A's manager Connie Mack that Nicholson should sign with the A's after seeing the raw talent the Nicholson possessed. Mack then took his catcher’s word and eventually signed Nicholson.
Nicholson appeared in a handful of games with the Athletics in 1936, but only to out five times and fail to register a base hit. After a stint in spring training, he played a couple of seasons in the minors where he hit 20 round-trippers in three different seasons with the Portsmouth Cubs, Williamsport Grays, and Chattanooga Lookouts. While with the Chattanooga Lookouts, he tuned his batting stance thanks to advice from manager Kiki Cuyler, which proved very helpful and helped launch Nicholson into a successful career thereafter. Cuyler also helped Nicholson’s MLB career by recommending him to the Cubs.
The Cubs took a chance on him and added him to the team in 1939. He saw more action starting in 1940, quickly becoming a favorite player to Cubs fans due to his offensive prowess. Although the baseball world knows him as “Swish," Cubs fans did not like the name. To the Cubs, he was called “Big Bill” or “Nick."
Big Bill had his best seasons with the Cubs in 1943 and 1944. His power with the bat propelled him to stardom, finishing top ten in offensive categories such as batting average (.307), slugging (.531), OPS(.917), hits(188), homers(29), and the MLB leader in RBI (128). Additionally, he finished third in MVP voting behind St. Louis Cardinals Walker Cooper and Stan “The Man” Musial respectively.
In 1944, Nicholson led the MLB in not just RBI (122), but he was the home run king with 33. He was top ten again in the other offensive categories, and finished second in MVP voting, losing out by just one vote to Marty Marion. The best moment of his 1944 season was a game against the New York Giants. In the top of the eighth inning, Giants pitcher Ewald Pyle intentionally walked Big Bill with the bases loaded, a feat that only happened three other times. No one would ever be intentionally walked with the bases loaded again until Barry Bonds in 1998 and Josh Hamilton in 2008 as a whole 50 years passed before we experienced this feat again.
Nicholson got to taste the World Series with the Cubs in 1945. In seven games, he drove in eight runs and collected six hits. Also, this World Series might be familiar to you as this World Series is also known for the start of a well known baseball curse known as “The Curse of the Billy Goat”.
Nicholson's baseball career started to take a turn for the worse around 1946 due to age and injuries that would hurt his playing opportunities and ended up leading to the end of his career. Although, he still found nuggets of baseball greatness in walk-off home runs and hitting a baseball so far it hit a building on Sheffield Avenue. In 1950, the Cubs traded an old Nicholson to the Phillies whose roster was then dominated by young, up and coming ballplayers. Although he did not play much with the young players, he and the "Whiz Kids" found themselves in the World Series against the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, the "Whiz Kids" were swept, and Nicholson did not play in the World Series, later retiring from baseball.
Nicholson received multiple honors for his tremendous baseball contributions. The Cubs named him to their All-Century Team and his hometown of Chestertown erected a life-size statue of himself at the town hall in 1992, five years before another Eastern Shore native Jimmie “Double X” Foxx would have a statue in his hometown of Sudlersville.
After baseball, Nicholson spent the rest of his life working on his farm in Chestertown. He worked until his death on March 8, 1996 of a heart attack leaving behind a tremendous baseball legacy that all started right here on the Eastern Shore.