In July of this year, the baseball world lost one of the greatest pitchers the game had ever seen. Helen Nicol lived to the age of 100 and at the time of her retirement was one of the best pitchers the game had ever seen. Yet, she is not enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame nor did her passing earn her any sort of deep analysis on any of the major baseball news sites. Sadly, her death was met with the same relative silence that equaled the reaction of the baseball media and most male fans to her baseball career.
Nicol first took the professional mound in 1943 for the Kenosha Comets of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. From the very onset, she established that she was in another stratosphere compared to the rest of the league. The early years of the AAGPBL were dominated by pitching and Nicol was at the front of the pack. The 1943 season saw Nicol log 348 innings and post an ERA of 1.81 as she accumulated a record of 31-8. From the first pitch to the last, it was clear that she was the class of the fledgling league on the mound.
After a series of excellent seasons, it was 1949 that truly painted the picture of the greatness contained in Nicol’s right hand. The year before the AAGPBL had made the decision to switch from underhanded to overhand pitching. Much like when Major League Baseball made a similar switch the pitchers of the AAGPBL suffered and plenty of once-dominant pitchers found the adjustment too hard to make. Not Nicol, all it took was one year of tinkering with the new style and she was good to go. Now with the Rockford Peaches, Nicol appeared in 26 games and threw 212 innings. She struck out 70, walked 65, and put together a WHIP of 0.783 and an ERA of 0.98. There’s dominance and then there is the season Nicol had in 1949.
By the time she retired following the 1952 season, Nicol had put together a body of work that any pitcher would welcome. In 2,549 innings pitched the righty struck out 1,125 and walked 951 while accruing a 176-125 record in 333 games. Most impressively she retired with an ERA of 1.88 and a WHIP of 1.042. She was a league champion in three straight seasons from 1948-1950 and a contender for best pitcher in the league year in and year out.
Yet, in July of 2021, Helen Nicol passed away and the baseball world continued on as if nothing had happened. That an athlete as outstanding as Nicol was forgotten almost as soon as she retired speaks volumes to the lack of respect awarded to the women who have played the game of baseball at a professional level. Nicol deserves the same sort of respect and stature as other all-time greats of the game and hopefully, one day she will get what she deserves. For now, Nicol remains a player who needs to be recognized more and who baseball fans, pundits, historians, and researchers need to champion harder and louder. Helen Nicol was a fantastic baseball player and with her passing the baseball world is a much lesser place.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – All-American Girls Professional Baseball League