Searching for Simon Nicholls

I went out to Valley Forge yesterday to do a little hiking with the dog, and the wife let me duck my head into the Expo, where a baseball card and sports memorabilia show was going on. I was hoping to talk to Dick Allen, who was signing autographs, but there was a long line waiting on him, so instead I talked with a couple of guys who had some really neat old Philadelphia cards and keepsakes (I’ll have some pretty cool video up in the next few days). On a whim, I decided to grab an old cigarette card. I used to collect baseball cards as a kid, but I’d never had a cigarette card. I wanted to get a local guy, and I didn’t want to get in trouble with the old lady by spending too much on a card, so I bought the cheapest local guy they had. The guys name was Simon Nicholls, and he played for the A’s just over 100 years ago.

There’s something about buying a fella’s baseball card that makes you feel like you’ve got some sort of connection with him, and needless to say, I was anxious to get home and do some research on this Nicholls character. Every player has a story, and I was interested to see what his would be. It turned out that by picking up the random card of the cheapest guy on the table, I stumbled across a heartbreaking tragedy.

His stats certainly showed you why his card was going for a mere $20. A .251 hitter, with 4 career homers and 58 career RBIs. I don’t think the Veteran’s Committee has this guy on their short list. But in looking at his baseball-reference page, there was a number that caught my eye. 28. Simon Nicholls was a mere 28 when he died. Normally, stumbling across birth and death dates of people 100 years ago just look like so many numbers, but thanks to this card, I now had a tangible connection to Simon Nicholls. I wanted to find out more. The Baseball Research Journal was happy to help. I found everything I could ever hope to learn about Nicholls there.

He was essentially the Wilson Valdez of his day, a light hitting, decent fielding utility infielder. When the team’s starting third baseman got injured shortly before the 1909 season, Nicholls stepped in and started on Opening Day. It was also the first day of Shibe Park, and Nicholls got his name in the record books by collecting the first hit in Shibe Park history. He finished the 1909 season batting .211 and spent 1910 in the minors. Then tragedy struck. This from the Baseball Research Journal:

On March 5, the Nicholls’ second child, a son, was born, but what should have been a joyous occasion was tempered by the diagnosis received the previous day that Simon had typhoid fever. His case did not appear to be severe, but after a few days he developed pelvic peritonitis. An operation provided the only chance for his recovery. After surgery, hemorrhaging developed and all hope for Simon’s recovery was lost. On the morning of March 12, George Nicholls saw his dying son for the last time, the dolorous scene being recounted in the Baltimore Sun:

About 11 o’clock Simon’s father arrived at his son’s bedside. Simon was breathing hard and was conscious.

“Hello, papa,” said Simon just above a whisper, as he feebly clasped the white-haired, stately old gentleman’s right hand between both of his.

Tears trickled down the furrowed cheeks of the father as he looked at his dying son, the pride of his heart.

The evening edition of the Baltimore┬áNews reported on the front page that the popular Oriole captain died about 1:45 that afternoon. Simon’s wife, weak from childbirth and the tragedy, had not been able to see her dying husband, and Simon never saw his newborn son.

RIP Simon Nicholls. He is buried just outside of Philadelphia in Yeadon, at Holy Cross Cemetery.


2 Comments on “Searching for Simon Nicholls”

  1. Kenny Trobman says:

    Thank you for this small tribute to My Great Grandfather.

  2. Morgan Pelzer says:

    I have cigarette card

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