Thursday, November 10, 2016

R.I.P. Russ Nixon

Former Major League catcher and manager Russ Nixon died on Tuesday.  He was 81.

He played 13 seasons for the Indians, Red Sox and Twins and managed the Cincinnati Reds in the early 1980s and the Atlanta Braves in the late 80s.  He was the Red Sox catcher when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in 1961.  As a bench coach, he won a World Series with the 1976 Reds.  He still holds the record for longest career without stealing a base.

He was also my uncle.

I was one year old when the 1976 Reds won that World Series and a wide-eyed little boy when I visited Riverfront Stadium or Fulton County Stadium and got to go into the dungeons of those cookie cutter stadiums to meet those baseball players whom he coached.  As a manager for the Reds in 1982 and 1983, pretty much the only players that would move the needle were Mario Soto and a retiring Johnny Bench.  Still, guys like Ted Power, Eddie Milner, Dan Dreissen and Ron Oester were stars to me.  In Atlanta, my Uncle Russ got to manage a bunch of young guys that no one in the pre-internet days ever heard of.  John Smoltz?  Tom Glavine?  Ron Gant?  Well, this David Justice kid had a great rookie season.  Who knew that would be the core for that outstanding Braves' run over the next decade-and-a-half?  Well, my uncle wasn't around to see it as he was fired after the 1990 campaign.

Still, to have a career like that in baseball is amazing.  To break into the big leagues in 1957 and still coaching catchers in lower levels of the minors into his 70s is quite a run.  Selfishly, it was so cool to have an uncle who was connected to baseball.  Whenever we'd visit his house, I always wanted to find his uniform in a closet somewhere.  When he was a coach for Montreal, he would send me Expos stuff that was in French (cool).  In Seattle, he got to coach Ken Griffey, Jr.  When my grandpa died in 1997, I enjoyed sitting down with him and watching a Padres-Reds game (he had managed in the Padres minor league system) and hearing him dish on the players.   Even as a man (kinda), I looked at him as if I was still a kid.

Outside of baseball, he was always kind to us.  Anytime we'd see him, he always chat with me about whatever and spent time with his huge grin and bellowing laugh.  We spent a number of Thanksgivings and Christmases at his home and had a blast.  And though everyone moved away from each other in the late 1980s and we rarely saw each other, he still was nice and genuinely caring whenever we saw each other.

Rest in peace, Uncle Russ.