How many of you were lucky enough to see Nellie play? I missed that but I did have a small interaction with him in late 1971 as he was coaching for the Washington Senators and their manager, Mr. Ted Williams.
Now, Nellie was a big idol for me and seeing him in person was a very big deal. Sure, I may have missed out on his entire career but he was already being featured in some of the baseball books that I regularly devoured. In addition, I had cunningly traded for his 1960 card from an older kid down the street. And being mostly a second base-shortstop sort of fellow, well, it was just natural to look up to Nellie. That pumped up cheek of his seemed to be just the sort of attitude that a young infielder should emulate.
I don’t recall the results of that 1971 game but afterwards my dad allowed us kids to linger around the visitor’s exit and team bus. We regularly did this and from my personal experience that day I can attest that the Baseball Encyclopedia has it all wrong: Frank Howard was at least nine feet tall, perhaps more; Ted Williams reached about eight feet and Nellie Fox was certainly a seven-footer.
The Senators were very good signers that day with the exception of these three fellows. Frank Howard kind of looked at me as if no one had ever asked for his autograph before and couldn’t imagine why they would want it. Ted Williams came huffing out of the stadium and seemed to be in a really foul mood. My courage fled and, shrinking down to the size of a mouse, I had to content myself with simply watching him as he shared a few words with someone that he apparently knew. I remember him scanning the thin crew of kids present (also keeping their distance) and as his eyes passed over me I could only hope that I was completely invisible. There was this palpable feeling in my gut that this guy could really be dangerous if his temper were to escape.
And then Nellie Fox appeared, one of the last to leave the stadium that afternoon. I’ll bet my eyes were as big as saucers. He was quickly striding toward the bus but I intercepted with my most polite autograph request ever. In the years since I’ve never even asked my wife so politely for anything. It was to no avail, however, he brushed by me with something like a growl. My heart sank. Obviously he didn’t like me.
But I don’t want to give anyone the impression that these guys were uncaring or not thankful for their fans. I’m quite sure that they were. Well, maybe not Williams. But it must be difficult to be badgered all the time by people wanting you to sign napkins. I mean, if you think about it you’ll agree that it really is absurd. Final note: I didn’t give up on Nellie. That winter I mailed him a polite request and he was kind enough not only to sign but to include a couple signed color photos. It was very nice of him and the thought crossed my mind that he somehow knew that I was the same kid in Detroit that he had brushed by over the summer. Charles
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