Waiting for “Swish”

A forgotten baseball star and a rekindled hobby.

I unexpectedly relapsed this summer into one of my most cherished childhood hobbies: collecting baseball cards. I blame The Baseball Card Blog, which reminded me of the simple joys I used to get from those innocuous pieces of cardboard: the eye-catching designs, the unintentionally hilarious photos, the favorite players. Realizing I could easily put myself in the poorhouse with this hobby, I settled upon a monthly self-allowance for baseball card expenses: $30.

Even though I’ve focused my attention on older cards (1960s and 1970s), some careful hunting on eBay has helped me stretch my budget. Now I’m biding my time until October, and I’ve already got my sights set on a target: a 1952 Topps Bill Nicholson.

As an avid baseball fan, I’m ashamed to admit that I only recently learned that Bill Nicholson was a graduate of Washington College, my own alma mater. He has his own statue not far from the college’s campus in Chestertown, MD, but I never connected the dots.

Nicholson was a pretty damned good player, leading the National League in home runs in 1943 and 1944. The moniker “Swish,” originally a tribute to his powerful swing, was also a source of mockery when he would swing and miss. But there have been worse baseball nicknames. Just ask Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons.

Why the 1952 card, specifically? Since his career ended in 1953, when baseball cards were just beginning to gain popularity, there aren’t many Swish cards out there. Not only is the 1952 card the most visually appealing of the bunch, it’s from a historical set that is widely considered the first example of the “modern” baseball card.

I feel like a piece of baseball history has been just under my nose for all this time. Now that I’ve discovered it, I guess I’ll have to wait a little bit longer.

Article © 2007 by Kevin Brotzman