The late Russ Nixon managed for a 5 seasons in the early 1980’s and the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Over the those years, only twice did he begin and end the season with the same team.
As it turned out he arrived at the end of one of the great runs in National League history and the beginning of another. Russ Nixon was a fine baseball lifer who basically was a place holder in history as a manager.
The Cincinnati son joined the Cleveland organization in 1953. He bounced between four different minor leagues before arriving in Cleveland as a 22 year old in 1957. He had a twin brother Roy in the Indians organization with him. Roy never made it to the bigs.
Over 12 years, Russ managed to get jobs with the Indians, Red Sox and Twins as a reserve catcher. By 1970, his playing career was over but his coaching days were just beginning.
During the 1970’s he managed in the Reds organization and all the while saw many of the players who skippered head to the Big Red Machine.
Eventually he got the call. In 1976, he joined the Reds coaching staff on the big league level. That squad won the World Series, making quick work of the post season with sweeps of Philadelphia and the Yankees for the title.
In 1977, the Reds were the two time defending World Champs and added Tom Seaver to the team. But their fortunes slipped in 1977 and 1978. After the 1978 season, Pete Rose left by way of free agency and Sparky Anderson was fired. John McNamara took over as manager and Russ Nixon stayed with the staff.
The Big Red Machine might have gotten a facelift, but they were still good enough to win the 1979 NL West title. The Reds remained a solid team through the 1981 season, when they won more games than any other team.
However the stupid playoff rules in the split season of 1981 prevented the best team in baseball from making the postseason. They finished in second for both the first and second halves of the season. That would have been the Big Red Machine’s final bow.
In 1982, the Reds stumbled out to a 34-58 record over 92 games. McNamara was fired and Nixon took the reigns.
His first game was on July 21 against the Pirates. Dave Concepcion and Dan Driessen were still there. But the rest of the team bore little resemblance to a pennant winner.
Tom Lawless, a .154 hitter with an on base percentage of .241, was leading off. They blew the lead that game and lost. The restof the season didn’t get much better as the Reds went on to lose 100 games.
The Reds glory years were over and after 88 losses in 1983 as well, Nixon’s time managing his hometown team was also over.
He coached for the Expos and Braves over the next few years and managed the Double A Greenville Braves in 1988.
In 1988, he was promoted to replace Chuck Tanner as Atlanta manager. The farm system was loaded with talent and future Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were on the big league roster.
The 1989 Braves was a 97 loss. They featured Smoltz, Glavine, Jeff Blauser, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, David Justice and Lonnie Smith, all of whom would play big parts in the 1991 pennant winning season.
Veterans Darrell Evans and Dale Murphy were also there. But the team was not fitting together. In 1990, it was more of the same and 65 games into the year, they were floundering.
Nixon was fired and replaced by GM Bobby Cox. They would lose 97 games again. But the next year the Braves would win the National League pennant and put on the greatest run the league had seen since the Big Red Machine.
Nixon briefly coached with the Mariners before becoming a minor league manager and instructor until his death.
He was too late for the Big Red Machine and too early for the great Brave squads.
Sometimes it is all in the timing. Sometimes the groundwork is put down by unsung heroes. Nixon might have had bad timing and more influence than we will know.