Introducing… Bill Nicholson

Noted as baseball’s greatest slugger during the years of World War II, Swish Nicholson has the tag of being a star when the game was depleted and not when it was at its strongest.  War era ease aside, Bill was a powerful homerun hitter who was an All-Star before the war–it’s not his fault that he came into his prime when many of the game’s top flight stars were in the colors.

Swish received his first look in the Majors with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s in 1936.  Ever the astute judge of talent, Mr. Mack thought the brawny basher needed more seasoning after a 12 at-bat, no-hit cup of coffee in ’36.  It was back to the minors for Swish but after a solid slugging season with the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1939 he was back in the Majors–for good.  The Cubs rewarded Bill’s work in Chattanooga with a callup and he hit .295 the rest of the season in Chicago.

Given the chance to show what he could do in 1940, Swish was named to the NL All-Star team by leading National League right fielders in homeruns and RBI.  His .534 slugging average was good for second in the senior circuit.  Bill mirrored his 98 RBI of 1940 with the same total in 1941–the best tally from an NL right fielder.  After Pearl Harbor was bombed in December of ’41, Major League ballplayers began joining the colors in earnest.  Swish was able to play through the fighting and thus enjoyed some rather fine seasons.

His best years came in 1943 and 1944.  In each campaign, Swish led the NL in both homeruns and RBI.  He finished third in MVP voting in 1943 and second in voting in ’44.  In the 1943 season, Swish was one of just two National League players (Hall of Famer Stan Musial being the other) to slug over .500.  Even better in 1944, Swish led the NL in homeruns, RBI, total bases and runs scored.  It can be argued that he was ripped off in MVP voting as the award went to Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion whose lumber wasn’t even in the same league as Bill’s. 

Swish’s numbers dipped mightily in 1945 but his Cubs nevertheless went to the World Series.  Although he hit twenty fewer long balls in 1945 than he did in ’44, Bill was at his run-producing best in the Fall Classic.  He led all participants with 8 RBI, but the Cubs lost to the Tigers in seven games.  When Bill had a dismal 1946 season, the first year after the war, pundits felt he was simply a war era star and nothing more.  He proved his naysayers wrong by leading the Cubs with 26 homeruns in 1947.

After a 19 homerun season for the Cubs in 1948, they traded him to the Phillies for Harry “The Hat” Walker.  Bill’s batting average fell to .234 in ’49 and then to .224 in 1950 as the Phillies gave more playing time to a younger, stronger Del Ennis.  But Swish still brought some value to his club.  He became a valuable reserve bat for the Phillies in the early 1950s.  He finished second on the Phillies roster in slugging average in 1951.  In 1952, Swish was the only Phillies player to slug over .500.  He ended his career in 1953.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,677/R 837/H 1,484/2B 272/3B 60/HR 235/RBI 948/BB 800/SO 828/BA .268/SA .465/OBP .365

www.wikipedia.org

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2 comments
  1. Bob Greenberg said:

    I hope you will read my recent biography of Nicholson. It is called “‘Swish’ Nicholson – A Biography of Wartime Baseball’s Leading Slugger.” The publisher is McFarland, and the book can be purchased from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other Internet retailers.

  2. brettkiser said:

    Nicholson’s claim to fame is actually a hinderance and not an usher to the HOF. He is wartime baseball’s greatest power hitter but many wonder how he would have faired playing his peek years against peek competition. His HOF chances are slim.

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