Two baseball Hall of Fame inductees, Nellie Fox and Rickey Henderson had the misfortune to have been born on Christmas Day. Unfortunately for them and others who suffered the same fate, that inevitably results in fewer presents no matter how well intended friends and family may be.
While I admire Henderson’s huge talents, I could never quite warm up to his personality. I’m put off by Henderson’s illeist attitude and his insistence on playing on long after he passed his peak.
Henderson on Henderson:
“If you talk about baseball, you can’t eliminate me because I’m all over baseball… It’s the truth. Telling the truth isn’t being cocky. What do you want me to say, that I didn’t put up the numbers? That my teams didn’t win a lot of games? People don’t want me to say anything about what I’ve done. Then why don’t you say it? Because if I don’t say it and you don’t say it, nobody says it.”
But make no mistake, Henderson was a superb player who, as Bill James once said, if you could split him in two, you would have two Hall of Famers.
Fox, one of the most recognizable players of the 1950s-1960s with his huge tobacco wad and bottle bat, is more to my liking. Undersized and with less natural talent than Henderson, Fox made the most out of what he had.
But Fox didn’t have to wait long for his break. In 1950, the Sox traded Michaels to the Washington Senators and gave Fox his first real opportunity. Fox’s determination was the overriding factor in his long term success.
Said Billy Pierce, Fox’s longtime teammate as well as his roomy for 11 years:
“Nellie was the greatest competitor I ever played with. Baseball, gin rummy, bowling … whatever he played, he just loved to compete.”
What I recall most vividly about Fox was his uncanny ability to make contact. Fox struck out only once in every 48 plate appearances during his career and never more than 18 times in a season despite averaging about 700 PAs during the peak of his career. In 1959, the Go Go Sox American League championship season, Fox struck out only 13 times in 716 PAs.
If you believe as I do that what others say about you is more important than what you say about yourself, consider Whitey Ford’s remark about Fox:
“Nellie was the toughest out for me. In 12 years I struck him out once, and I think the umpire blew the call.”
Fox died in 1975. Only 47, he succumbed to a rare form of skin cancer.