The story of lefty Chet Nichols’ impact on Red Sox baseball
February 22nd is the birthday of former Red Sox lefty Chet Nichols, a native of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Nichols is also connected to both Boston teams as his first calling to MLB was with the Boston Braves in 1950.
Nichols’s debut season was spectacular, going 11-8 and winning the National League ERA title. There were apparent comparisons to fellow lefty Warren Spahn, and Nichols finished second in the Rookie of The Year voting to a Giants outfielder – Willie Mays. Then it was off to the military.
When Nichols returned, the Braves were in Milwaukee, and Nichols never got the traction of his rookie season. By 1956 he was gone from the MLB landscape, and it was a long stint in the minors until 1960 when Nichols returned to Boston as a Red Sox. Spot starting and cleaning up duties from the bullpen produced a 5-8 record over four seasons.
The following year it was Cinncinatti and then retired back to Pawtucket. A mediocre career, but Nichols’s second career was quite different as he became a successful banker and, as Paul Harvey would say, “Now for the rest of the story.”
In 1976 the Red Sox minor league franchise in Pawtucket went bankrupt. The expectation was the sinking franchise would be sold and moved until Nichols stepped in. Nichols was quite friendly with Ben Mondor, which set Mondor purchasing the team in motion with assistance from banker Nichols.
Nichols never lost his Red Sox connection and convinced the Red Sox to move Mike Tamburro from Elmira to Pawtucket to be GM. Tamburro was the youngest GM in professional baseball and this move became critical to refreshing the PawSox. Sometimes the stars do align, which became the impetus for the PawSox to be one of the most successful operations in minor league baseball.
McCoy Stadium was renovated, and the park spruced up. As an occasional PawSox fan, the changes were notable, and I was not alone. Attendance increased, parking remained free, food service had a noticeable improvement, and the on-field product was worth a visit.
Mondor became a baseball minor league legend for his hands-on approach to all things PawSox. In 2004, Mondor became a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame and a similar honor to the International League Hall of Fame. Mondor passed away in 2010, and so have the PawSox with a move to Worcester.
Tamburro is the other part of the success story for Pawtucket. Five times the International League Executive of The Year. Tamburro has served on numerous minor league baseball committees, and he served as president of the PawSox for 30 years. Today and with a bit of irony, the Worcester-born Tamburro is Vice Chairman of the WooSox.
Nichols’s career may have been mediocre, but his influence on Red Sox history is not. A hometown kid who returned home and became instrumental in saving the Red Sox affiliate in Pawtucket. Nichols died in 1995 of cancer at age-64.