EDITOR'S NOTE: Frequent BCB readers may recall that a few months ago I reviewed one of my favorite new baseball books, Chris Jensen's Baseball State by State. After reading the book I've asked Chris to join us for a 12-part series in 2013 on the best players born in Wisconsin. What follows is part nine of that series. - KL
Hall of Famer Kid Nichols was the youngest pitcher in baseball history to reach 300 wins-he was 30 years old when he reached the mark on September 7, 1900. Nichols is frequently overlooked in discussions about all-time great pitchers, largely because he pitched from 1890-1906. All Nichols did was win 20 or more games each of his first 10 seasons and win at least 30 games seven of those years, although he was pitching from a mound distance of 50 feet his first three seasons.
Since Nichols was selected as Wisconsin's All-Time Best Player in Baseball State by State, he obviously gets the nod as Wisconsin's best player born in September. The book's list of the top 100 players features Nichols ranked at number 52.
Charles "Kid" Nichols was born in Madison on September 14, 1869, although he attended high school in Surrey, British Columbia. More than a century after his career ended, the small but durable righty still ranks as Wisconsin's all-time leader in most pitching categories including wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, games started, complete games and shutouts. It was his slight build that led his Boston Beaneaters teammates to tag him with the "Kid" moniker.
Nichols led the league in wins three straight years, each time with at least 30 victories. In 1898 he started 42 games and went 31-12 with a 2.13 ERA. He finished first in shutouts and WHIP three times each and pitched more than 400 innings in each of his first five seasons.
When determining the best pitcher of the 1890s Nichols has to be considered in the conversation with Cy Young and Amos Rusie. Nichols went 297-151 in the decade, which tops the marks of Young (267-151) and Rusie (246-163) and also represents the most wins of any pitcher in any decade.
In 1892 Nichols was ace of the Boston Beaneaters staff that beat the Cleveland Spiders in the Championship Series. He won 35 games that year as the Beaneaters went 102-48. After 12 seasons with Boston, Nichols found himself player-manager of the Cardinals in 1904. He went 21-13 with a 2.02 ERA and career-best 1.003 WHIP, but the Cards limped home in fifth place with a 75-79 record.
Nichols was also a pretty good hitter, averaging .226 for his career with 16 homers among his 472 hits. In 1894 he batted .294 with 34 RBI, while in 1901 he averaged .282 with seven triples and four homers. He occasionally played games in the outfield and at first base, but he made his mark as an ace pitcher despite not having much in his arsenal beyond a fastball. His 361 wins is seventh all-time and he ranks fourth with 532 complete games.
Three other September-born players from Wisconsin deserve mention. "Big Ed" Konetchy (born September 3, 1885 in La Crosse) definitely tops all Wisconsin players by having the most nicknames. He was also known as the Big Bohemian, Koney, Edward the Mighty, the La Crosse Lulu and Candy Kid. The last one originated from his job working in a candy factory while in his teens. Konetchy compiled 182 triples-tied for 15th on the all-time list-and he is the only player in the top 20 who is not in the Hall of Fame. His best season was probably 1915, when he was playing for the Pittsburgh Rebels in the Federal League-he had career highs with 181 hits, 93 RBI, 18 triples, and a .314 average while also leading the league in total bases. Konetchy played in the Deadball Era, so he only hit 74 home runs, but he ended up with 2,150 hits. He was an outstanding fielder with phenomenal range, leading NL first basemen in assists and putouts five times and fielding percentage six times. He even stole 255 bases.
Vastly underrated as an overall player, Konetchy had a career filled with interesting accomplishments. He stole home twice in a game on September 30, 1907. He hit two inside-the-park home runs in a game on August 5, 1912. He not only pitched in a game in 1913, he won it after going 4-2/3 innings in relief and allowing one hit and no runs. He got 10 consecutive hits from June 21 to July 1, 1919, tying a record that was later broken by Pinky Higgins. He hit a ball completely out of Robison Field in St. Louis. In 1913 he drew a walk off Christy Mathewson to stop his streak of 68 innings without a walk. In 1920 he set a record for most chances by a first baseman in a World Series game with 19 (17 putouts and two assists) during Game 3.
Fred Luderus (born September 9, 1885 in Milwaukee), was the starting first baseman for the Phillies from 1911-19. Luderus hit .301 and drove in 99 runs in 1911, but his numbers slipped the next three years. He finished in the top 10 in homers eight times in nine years, mainly because he was adept at going deep in Philadelphia's Baker Bowl. His OPS+ of 150 ranked second in 1915, a year in which he batted .315. The Phillies won the pennant that season, but lost in the World Series to the Red Sox despite Luderus batting .438. He ended his career with 1,344 hits and a .277 average across 12 seasons.
Abner Dalrymple (born September 9, 1857 in Gratiot) was a 19th century player who compiled 1,202 hits over 12 seasons. As a rookie in 1878 he led the National League with a .354 average playing for the Milwaukee Grays, then led the NL in hits in 1880 and in homers with 11 in 1885. His impressive total of 22 homers the previous year were only good for third place behind Ned Williamson (27) and Fred Pfeffer (25). Dalrymple was a left fielder who mainly batted leadoff for the Chicago White Stockings.
Chris Jensen is the author of Baseball State by State: Major League and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums and Historical Sites, which was published in July 2012 by McFarland. It features a chapter on each state covering state baseball history, an all-time team, stats leaders, historic baseball places to see, future stars, player nicknames and the state's all-time best player.