Book Review: Kid Nichols – A Biography of the Hall of Fame Pitcher
By Jon Leshanski

Title: Kid Nichols: A Biography of the Hall of Fame Pitcher
Author: Richard Bogovich
Pages: 262

McFarland publishes a lot of biographies about baseball players.  Some are better than others and some are definitely more interesting.  Richard Bogovich’s look at one of the most obscure Hall of Famers ranks in that category.
Cover shot
Nichols is one of those players who has really slipped between the cracks of baseball’s history and gone largely unnoticed.  His best years really came before 1900, a time when baseball’s history seems especially murky.  Bogovich reaches into the past to try to shed some light on a pitcher who may have been the greatest of all time.

The book has the flaws that most baseball books have -- the occasionally mind numbing recitation of day in day out statistics.  However it’s handled better than you expect and in this case it really serves a purpose.  It shows just how dominant Nichols was during his best years and even in flashes during his twilight years.

How good was he?  Ty Cobb, Cy Young and Christy Mathewson all thought he was one of the greatest pitchers who ever played and helped lobby for his admission to the Hall of Fame.  That’s a pretty heady endorsing committee.

And Bogovich works hard to make you understand just how good Nichols truly was.  In that, his success brings Nichols to life for the reader.  That gives you some idea of who Nichols was, the society that shaped him and just how much he gave back to the communities where he lived and played.

It’s really the story of a different era and of the different sensibilities that different players and groups grew up with.  And while the words you might use to describe Nichols might have been “clean cut,” it certainly didn’t apply to many of those he played against.

In this book the life and times of Kid Nichols are well laid out -- from his days of championships and fame to his days of being a forgotten man by the powers that made up baseball and the sportswriters, many of whom had never heard of him by the time the concept of the Hall of Fame rolled around.

Judging a biography from this era is hard.  It’s not a autobiography, and the details of the player have to be carefully reconstructed.  Because of that books like this tend to be painfully academic and often lose the man and the flavor of his character in the telling of his story.  Bogovich does a better than average job at maintaining that flavor and his book is well worth a read for those who love the history of the game.

Give this one a solid 2 balls.  It won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s hard to imagine that a better biography of the Kid will ever be written. writes its book reviews with the following rating scale in mind:
Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.
One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.