In Spring Training of 1980, my family went to Winter Haven, Florida to see my beloved Boston Red Sox train.
It was really the second year I followed the ins and outs of a baseball season and I pretty much knew everyone on the Sox team. Spring training is an amazing experience because you can get up close to the players and I collected my share of autographs.
I was not quite 8 years old and a cute kid if I can say so myself. So I guess I was tough to turn down that day.
I got a bunch of autographs players I knew well, including my hero, Butch Hobson. At one point a Red Sox player signed my book and my brothers’ book.
I looked at it. I had no clue who this guy was. The signature read “Reid Nichols.”
Keep in mind, I got the autograph for obscure Red Sox players like Allen Ripley and Stan Papi. It wasn’t like I only knew Yaz, Rice, Fisk and Lynn. I KNEW this Sox team.
And yet there was a name that totally eluded me.
So that day, we returned back to our hotel room, looked over the names, and I scratched my head about Reid Nichols. I figured out he played for Winston-Salem the year before and was one of those “Red Sox stars of the Future.”
He actually had a solid year at Single A in 1979, batting .293 and an OPS of .798 with 12 homers and 66 stolen bases. A Red Sox player with 66 stolen bases?
He played 1980 in Pawtucket before making his big league debut in mid September.
The speedy right handed hitting centerfielder got into 12 games at the end of 1980, hitting a triple but also getting thrown out in his lone stolen base attempt. But where would he fit into the team with Rice, Lynn and Evans starting.
Well, the Red Sox COULD have traded Fred Lynn for pitching in an ill fated deal with the California Angels. In fact that is what they did.
Nichols made the team out of Spring Training as the new look Red Sox had an opening in center. He started several games in April, May and June but saw his slugging at .270. His OPS of .520 did not cut it. Reacquired Rick Miller took over duties in center field.
In 1982, however, Nichols fared better. He batted .304 with an OPS of .838 in 11 games that May. By June he was splitting time as the regular centerfielder. That August, he caught fire.
He had an OPS of .991 in his 21 games and 17 starts, He hit 3 homers while batting .368. On August 8, he went 3 for 4 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI in a win against the White Sox. He had another 3 hits game on August 28th where he knocked in the go ahead run in the 9th.
That prospect whose autograph I got in 1980 was going places!
By 1983, as Yaz was doing his farewell season, Reid Nichols was part of the outfield rotation. He played in 100 games, batted a respectable .285 while posting a solid .790 OPS, not that anyone knew that then.
The Red Sox had as good a power outfield as there was in baseball, with Jim Rice in left, Tony Armas in center and Dwight Evans in right. But Armas’ low average and basically playing out of position in center gave Nichols some playing time, starting 64 games along the way.
But an improved Armas in 1984 cut Nichols time to only 30 starts total. Mike Easler came over to the team as the full time DH and Nichols rode the pine. The Red Sox were evolving with Boggs and Rice as the offensive catalysts and players like Bill Buckner, Rich Gedman, Bruce Hurst, Roger Clemens, Al Nipper, Oil Can Boyd and Marty Barrett all assuming their roles that they would eventually play in the 1986 World Series.
By 1985, Nichols was essentially out of a job in Boston and was dealt to the Chicago White Sox for Tim Lollar, another player who would be on the 1986 squad.
The 26 year old Nichols played well over his 51 games with the 1985 White Sox, batting .297. But in 1986, his numbers dipped again. After being cut by Chicago, he landed in Montreal. He played fine enough, but there was so much talent on the Expos then that Nichols didn’t have a chance.
After bouncing around a few minor league stops, he retired.
His post playing career saw him join the Texas Rangers front office, where he was their farm director and later director of player development for the Brewers.
Reid Nichols deals with prospects and learning who they are and what their strengths would be. That was kind of how I was introduced to him back in 1980. He was a young player then. I needed to see what he could do.