Nixey Callahan

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James Joseph Callahan

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 10½", Weight 180 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

"I decided with myself that Mr. [Charles] Comiskey looked like a white man of large ambition and good prospects. I was getting X dollars with the Cubs. Comiskey offered me X plus Y dollars. I compared the two salaries and found that one would buy more collars and shirts than the other. While never noted as a mathematician in my school studies my mind was able to grasp that salient fact. So I decided to change my Sox, putting on the more or less white ones that Comiskey furnished, and was duly branded as a rebel, traitor and undesirable citizen by the National League after the accepted manner of baseball tradition.” - Nixey Callahan, to Baseball magazine, 1916

Nixey Callahan was a pitcher, hitter and manager most famous for his days with the first editions of the Chicago White Sox.

Early Days[edit]

Nixey Callahan.jpg

Born James Joseph Callahan in Fitchburg, MA in 1874, he was more generally known as "Jimmy Callahan" in his day, although newspapers regularly used his childhood nickname of "Nixey". The son of Irish immigrants, he lost his father while still young and left school at 14 to work in the textile mills while apprenticing as a plumber. He began playing semipro baseball at age 16, and eventually became a star pitcher for the Pepperell, MA town team, playing under the assumed name of "William Smith", as his employer did not approve of his extracurricular activity. Indeed, he was eventually fired from his apprenticeship when his ruse was discovered.

Professional Debut[edit]

Callahan was now earning enough as a pitcher that losing his trade was no big deal. In 1894, he was signed by Arthur Irwin to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. Jumping straight from semipro to the Major Leagues, he found the adjustment difficult, with a 9.89 ERA in nine games. That earned him his release, and opened the door for him to sign with a team closer to his level of talent, in this case the Springfield Maroons of the Eastern League. He allegedly earned that job by writing a letter to the team informing them that he was "a player of rare promise", showing the gift for promotion that would serve him well in later years. He won 32 games in 1895 as Springfield won the pennant, and played the outfield and second base between pitching appearances. In 1896, he was drafted by the Kansas City Blues of the Western League, and was purchased by the Chicago Colts after the season.

Making It in Chicago[edit]


Callahan's return to the NL with the Colts in 1897 went much better than his first stint. In addition to his pitching ability, he impressed his team with his outstanding foot speed, and as a result was used as various infield positions and in the outfield as well as on the mound. He hit .292 in 360 at bats, while compiling a record of 12-9, 4.03. In Chicago, he was a teammate of future Hall of Famer Clark Griffith, and modeled his style on the ace pitcher, using control rather than speed to keep hitters in check. He preferred for the hitters to put themselves out, as he never struck out more than 77 batters in a season. Used more exclusively as a pitcher, he was a 20 game winner in both 1898 and 1899, then went 13-16 in 1900.

In 1901, both Griffith and Callahan defected to the newly-minted American League's rival Chicago team, the White Sox. He was outstanding during the inaugural big league season, posting a 15-8 record with a 2.42 ERA while hitting .331. He also umpired one game in the AL that year. The White Sox won the pennant, but slumped to fourth place in 1902 as Callahan also lost effectiveness. He went 16-14, with a high 3.60 ERA - this was the Deadball Era - but on September 20th, he pitched was was long credited as the first no-hitter in the history of the AL, beating the Detroit Tigers (in fact, Pete Dowling had pitched one for Cleveland one year earlier, but contemporary reporting had wrongly called it a one-hitter). In 1903, he was named manager of the White Sox, and only pitched three games. He mainly played third base, batting .292 but with poor defense, while the Sox fell all the way down to seventh in the standings. He returned as manager in 1904, but gave way to Fielder Jones after 42 games. His .561 winning percentage that year, thanks to a record of 23-18, was the best of his managerial career. He played 132 games, alternating between left field and second base, while hitting .261. In 1905, he hit .272 and stole 26 bases while playing mostly in the outfield.

A Hiatus from the Major Leagues[edit]

After the 1905 season, Nixey resigned from the White Sox in order to run his own team, presumably because he had noticed how profitable a venture the White Sox were for team owner Charles Comiskey. He bought a local semipro team, the Logan Squares, and turned them into a major attraction, using some professional players playing under assumed names to complement a talented group of amateurs. This venture was not appreciated by Organized Baseball and AL President Ban Johnson declared them an outlaw team, threatening fines for any player who would play for or against Callahan's team. Still, the team continued to operate successfully for a number of years, until attendance started to dip in 1910. After that season, Comiskey asked Callahan to return to the White Sox as team president - to take advantage of his marketing skills - but Callahan, who had continued playing all the while, convinced him to sign him as a player instead.

Return to the White Sox[edit]

After Comiskey convinced Ban Johnson to remove him from the ineligible list, paying a hefty $700 fine, Callahan returned to the White Sox in 1911. It was a remarkable comeback by any measure, as he hit .281 in 121 games, with career highs in hits (131), RBI (60) and stolen bases (45). He was appointed the team's manager for a second stint in 1912, bringing the team home with a fourth-place finish and a 78-76 record. He batted .272 in 111 games, but confined himself to the bench - except for six games - in 1913 as Chicago again won 78 games but slipped to fifth. After the season, Callahan was one of the main organizers behind one of baseball's most daring promotional efforts. Between October 1913 and March 1914, the White Sox and the New York Giants went on a world tour, playing each other in exhibitions across the United States, then in Japan, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. In Egypt, they played at the base of the Pyramids; in Rome, they met the Pope; and in London, they played in front of 20,000 fans, including King George V.

The tour was quite tiring, not surprisingly, and the White Sox got off to an indifferent start in 1914, finishing in sixth place. Callahan moved to the front office in 1915 while Eddie Collins took over as manager. In 1916, he accepted an offer to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates, leading them to sixth place before being dismissed halfway through 1917 with the team in last place.

After his baseball career, Callahan became a successful contractor, building the waterworks for the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago. He died in Boston in 1934 and was buried in his home town of Fitchburg.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 15 Wins Seasons: 4 (1898, 1899, 1901 & 1902)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1898 & 1899)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (1898-1902)

Preceded by
Clark Griffith
Chicago White Sox Manager
Succeeded by
Fielder Jones
Preceded by
Hugh Duffy
Chicago White Sox Manager
Succeeded by
Pants Rowland
Preceded by
Fred Clarke
Pittsburgh Pirates Manager
Succeeded by
Honus Wagner

Year-By-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1903 Chicago White Sox American League 60-77 7th Chicago White Sox
1904 Chicago White Sox American League 23-18 -- Chicago White Sox replaced by Fielder Jones on June 6
1906 Muskogee Indians South Central League -- none -- replaced by Frank Monroe
1912 Chicago White Sox American League 78-76 4th Chicago White Sox
1913 Chicago White Sox American League 78-74 5th Chicago White Sox
1914 Chicago White Sox American League 70-84 7th Chicago White Sox
1916 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 65-89 6th Pittsburgh Pirates
1917 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 20-40 -- Pittsburgh Pirates replaced by Honus Wagner on June 29

Further Reading[edit]

  • James E. Elfers: "James Joseph 'Nixey' Callahan", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 471-473.

Related Sites[edit]