COOPERSTOWN OR BUST A DEDICATED FAN CLUB WON'T REST UNTIL NELLIE FOX IS IN THE HALL OF FAME

December 09, 1996

You're not required to speak Latin if you want to join the
Nellie Fox Society, but it wouldn't hurt. That way if someone
says, "Eamus, O Tibialia Alba," you'll know he means, "Let's go,
White Sox."

The Nellie Fox Society is a group composed mostly of Chicago
White Sox fans and dedicated to the memory of the late Sox
second baseman. Its specific goal is to get Jacob Nelson Fox
voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor to which Fox has
come closer than anyone--except, of course, those who have been
voted in.

"When you dissect the career of Nellie Fox and compare his
numbers to those of his peers," says Louis Hegeman, a
56-year-old lawyer from LaGrange, Ill., and one of the society's
five cofounders, "you see that there's an injustice being done."
Fox, the American League MVP in 1959, the last year the White
Sox played in the World Series, was a 12-time All-Star. He spent
14 years with the White Sox and finished his 19-year major
league career with 2,663 hits, a .288 batting average, the
third-lowest strikeouts-per-at-bats ratio in history and the
most double plays in American League history. His fielding
percentage (.984) is still fourth among AL second basemen who
played more than 1,000 games. But Fox, who died of skin cancer
at age 47 in 1975, has been unable to crash the gates at
Cooperstown. In 1985, the 15th and last year he was eligible to
be elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he
finished two votes short, with 74.684% of the ballots (75% is
needed for induction).

That's where the Nellie Fox Society comes in. In 1986 Hegeman
began voicing his discontent about Fox's plight to four fellow
Chicago attorneys: Thomas Fitzgerald, E. Michael Kelly, Nicholas
Motherway and Gordon Nash Jr. "We're all South Side guys, all
Sox fans, and we agreed that Nellie was being denied his
rightful spot in Cooperstown," says Hegeman. "So we started
getting together to talk about it. Well, the group jumped to one
hundred or so people pretty quick, and it took on a life of its
own."

Today the 600 members of the Nellie Fox Society include Chicago
mayor Richard Daley, former Illinois governor Jim Thompson,
columnist George Will, Mary Frances and Mike Veeck (the widow
and son of former White Sox owner Bill Veeck) and former Sox
players such as Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso, Moose Skowron and
Al Smith. The society has judges, lawyers and businessmen, and
it has firemen, policemen and plumbers. The Chicago chapter
gathers at Harry Caray's Restaurant for quarterly luncheons,
where 1959 Sox caps are fashionable. There are also chapters in
10 other states and four foreign countries.

This year the group sent a testimonial video to the 15 members
of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, which includes former
players Buck O'Neil, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin, Pee Wee Reese,
Yogi Berra and Ted Williams. This committee represents Fox's
last chance to get into the Hall. Twelve votes are needed for
induction, and the Veterans Committee can elect only one player
per year. (The 1996 inductee was former Detroit Tigers and
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning.)

The video was produced by Ken Channer, an investment banker from
Inverness, Ill. "Growing up, I was always the littlest kid on
the block, just like Nellie, and he was a great inspiration," he
says. "Whitey Ford used to say that Nellie hit him harder than
anyone else. That's good enough for me."

Hegeman and Channer are both confident that 1997 will be Fox's
year and that his plaque will soon be hanging in Cooperstown.
But that won't be the end of the Nellie Fox Society. The group
will shift its attention to member Pierce, who won 211 games in
18 seasons for the White Sox, the Tigers and the San Francisco
Giants.

Anybody else? "There's been talk about working on Ron Santo's
behalf," Hegeman says. Wait a minute. Santo? Wasn't he a Chicago
Cub? "Remember," Hegeman says, "he played for the White Sox at
the end of his career."

Mark Mandernach is a freelance writer who lives in Arlington
Heights, Ill.

COLOR PHOTO: HY PESKIN Despite his 2,663 hits and superb fielding, Fox (batting in '55) has been shut out of the Hall. [Jacob Nelson Fox batting in game]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)