Kid Nichols in Action

nichols1890.jpgThere are any number of interesting things you can stumble across on the web, and this public-domain collection of old-timey (1880s-1910s, mainly 1901-06) baseball photos from the Boston Public Library is pretty impressive. Among others you can find Honus Wagner shaking hands with Nap Lajoie, a 1906 Cubs team picture, a picture of Hugh Duffy in mid-career, an 1895 picture of four of the stars of the old Baltimore Orioles, and a 1901 team picture with Cy Young at the center.
Below the fold you can see one series of pics from 1901 of Hall of Famer Kid Nichols demonstrating for a photographer his pitching grip & motion (granted, the motion’s a bit artificial since it has to be stopped for still photos in a studio). Nichols, largely forgotton today, was easily one of the 10 best pitchers in the game’s history – he won 63% of his career decisions with a 2.95 ERA pitching mainly in the offense-crazy 1890s, his career ERA+ of 140 means he was 40% better than the league for his career (among pitchers with over 3,000 career IP, only Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson and Roger Clemens can top that, and Nichols threw a thousand more innings than Grove), his average record from age 20-28 was 31-15, his decision to be a player-manager in the Western League for two years in mid-career is probably the only reason he didn’t join Cy Young and Walter Johnson as a 400-game winner, and he was durable and tremendously consistent despite carrying a heavy workload from an early age (over 420 innings a year from age 20-24). The picture at the side here is of Nichols as a 20-year-old rookie in 1890. It’s funny; I’ve known a fair bit about Nichols for a long time and this is the first time I’ve seen anything like action shots to give a sense of what he looked like on the mound.

Here’s Nichols holding the ball low; he threw overhand, so this must be the start of his windup, although the picture isn’t numbered and the next two are marked “1” and “3”.
Here’s Nichols in his windup – note the absence of a leg kick. I assume if he had one in his usual delivery he’d have tried to demonstrate that here.
Here’s the delivery, presumably still a bit above the release point – Nichols seems to be twisting his wrist a bit.
And here’s his grip, which looks like what I believe would now be described as a two-seam fastball.

4 thoughts on “Kid Nichols in Action”

  1. This is very cool … yes a two seamer grip, but the wrist turn on release indicates he’s throwing a slider or curve – something with movement. Very upright throwing motion – is this before the use of high pitching mounds?
    I’ve often wondered about the differences in throwing and the game from this time period that allowed players to throw 400 innings. One thought is pitchers threw with less then 100% effort, and this seems to be an easy, relaxed, low stress delivery. Also, thought is that hitters didn’t take as many pitches, so lower pitch counts per batter. Or guys just threw until their arms fell off, and there were plenty of guys to take their place.

  2. I noticed the big hands (no wisecracks). I think it’s a given for great pitchers to have big hands.

  3. Given the walk totals of the 1890s, it’s hard to say guys weren’t taking pitches. Also, foul balls didn’t count as strikes until about 1904, near the very end of Nichols’ career.
    Yeah, I don’t think they had much in the way of mounds at the time.

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