Just eight weeks ago Jim Nash, a handsome 21-year-old right-handed pitcher for the Mobile Athletics of the Class AA Southern League, won his seventh game of the season by beating Asheville 6-1. He showered and shaved quickly and then boarded the team bus for the 13-hour trip from Mobile, Ala. to Charlotte, N.C. If Nash could maneuver his 6 feet 5 inches and 220 pounds into a comfortable position he might be able to get a few minutes of fitful rest along the way; if not he would settle for five hours of deep sleep when the club checked into the Orvin Motor Court 525 miles away. As the bus pulled away from the hotel in Mobile, Nash reached into his pocket and counted his money. He had $8.
The game against Asheville had been gratifying for Nash. His curve ball had worked, and the change-up had the opposing hitters off stride. He remembered that when Kansas City had signed him three years previous for $2,000 he had thrown only two curves in his life. But Nash was worried, restless. Come early September he would be marrying his home-town girl from Marietta, Ga., and he wondered what "the big team" was thinking. It seemed possible to him that he might be called up to the majors after the Southern League season was over. But the big club had disillusioned him before.
In 1963, his first season in professional baseball, he was not allowed to pitch a single game even though his team, Daytona Beach, was in last place in the Florida State League. The A's were hiding him from baseball's first-year draft. Each morning he would go out to City Island Park and pitch to a catcher in front of empty stands. At night, when the games were played, he would put on one warmup jacket, spread another over his legs, drench himself with bug repellent and sit in the bullpen swatting mosquitoes. Manager Bobby Hofman, sensing Nash's frustration, several times called General Manager Hank Peters in Kansas City seeking permission to use him in a game. Each time the "no" got firmer.
When Nash finally was allowed to pitch regularly in 1964 and 1965 he compiled a two-season record of 28-11, prompting the A's to take him to spring training this February. He worked only one inning in an exhibition and was dispatched to Mobile. At least, he thought, he could have been sent to a Triple-A farm club; his record of 400 strikeouts in 388 innings seemed to warrant it. But instead of sulking Nash went out and pitched as hard as he could for Mobile.
The morning after that long bus trip from Mobile to Charlotte, the big club finally came through. Nash immediately flew to Detroit, where Kansas City was playing the Tigers.
Nash didn't know anything about the city of Detroit, nor was he aware that Metropolitan Airport is 20 miles from the center of the city. So, with the $8 still in his pocket, he hailed the first cab he saw at the airport. "Sheraton-Cadillac," he told the driver. He could not believe how rapidly the cab's meter clicked. He never imagined a city being so far from an airport. After all, he had flown into Atlanta a couple of times, and there it was only about $2 to town. When the meter reached $7.50 he asked the driver to stop, got out and caught a bus to the hotel. The bus cost a quarter, but Nash knew that once there he could get some money from the team. But the team was out at Tiger Stadium and, using the last quarter he had, he took another bus to the ball park. Thus Jim Nash arrived in the major leagues absolutely broke.
He got his first start in the second half of the July 4 doubleheader. There were 31,000 people in the stands—none of whom had ever heard of Jim Nash. He says now he was not nervous. "You can't be," he says. "Sometimes you pitch good and get beat. Other times you just pitch so-so and win." Nash pitched so-so, but the A's got him an early five-run lead, and he won 10-4.
After that first victory Jim Nash became the most sensational rookie starting pitcher to break into the American League since Whitey Ford rattled off nine straight for the Yankees 16 years ago. In his second start he threw a three-hitter, and in his next he gave up only two earned runs in nine innings (though to no decision). He won his next two games and then pitched an eight-inning one-hitter, though again he was not involved in the decision. He beat Washington, and he twice defeated Minnesota, holding the powerful Twins to one lone run over 17‚Öì innings. American League pitchers only dream things like that.
His winning streak went to seven before he was finally beaten last week at Yankee Stadium. Before the game most of the Yankees, old and getting-older pros, stood in their dugout to watch him warm up. Cot Deal, the A's pitching coach, explained Nash's success in almost reverent terms. "He is not any accident," said Deal. "He is one of the best young pitchers I have ever seen. His mammoth size helps with the fast ball, but he wants to be the best pitcher in the major leagues. After each game you see him writing things down in a notebook. He doesn't just write them down, mind you, he goes over and over what he has written."
Nash's loss to the Yankees was helped by the sins committed behind him: a fly ball lost in the sun in center and then a ground ball lost in the—yep—sun at second base. But when Manager Alvin Dark came to take him out in the fourth inning he did one of those things that only a true method-actor manager does. Dark held onto the ball as Nash walked off the mound, but, instead of scratching away at the dirt with his spikes, or talking to his catcher, Alvin pivoted 180° and watched Nash walk all the way to the dugout. A good horse trainer usually does that only when his big star is walking back to the barn.
The quick success of Nash has caused many people to look twice at what the Athletics are currently doing. The A's have added 19 new players to their roster in the last year. At home they have a 32-29 record. They are obviously banking on the future of young pitchers like Nash, and to help them the club has raised and pushed back the fences. A total of 354 homers were hit in Municipal Stadium in the past two seasons, but only 37 have been hit there in 1966. At Dodger Stadium, supposedly the toughest park for a home-run hitter, 57 have been hit this year.
It has not been easy to be a Kansas City fan for the last 11 seasons. There have been no Rookies of the Year, no Most Valuable Players, no batting champions, no 20-game winners, or 19-game winners, or 18-game winners, or 17-game winners. Players like Roger Maris, Hector Lopez, Clete Boyer and Ryne Duren were traded away, while others like Art Ceccarelli, Walt Craddock, Gerry Schypinski and Joe Astroth stayed. Now things are different. Now there are players like Jim Nash, and hope.