Monday, November 1, 2010

One Year Wonder Pt. 2: Otis Nixon

Every once in awhile, the Red Sox pick up a veteran player for a year, or just the stretch run that was a star at one point that I become fascinated with. It's a player that is basically only a role player at that point in their career, but may show flashes of their old brilliance. It's so unusual to see them as a member of the Red Sox, that I try to find as many of their cards as possible. This series will be about some of those players.

Otis Nixon was never a star player. His skill set was not one that was built to last for a long time in the major leagues. He never hit for particularly high batting averages, he had little to no power, and he did not walk a lot. However, Nixon was fast. Very fast.

Otis Nixon was often put out in center field and batted leadoff, because that's just what you did with fast players. However, he was not a particularly gifted defensive outfielder, and he really did not get on base quite often enough to be an effective leadoff hitter. He was just fast, and that was it.

Nixon was signed by the Red Sox as a free agent prior to the 1994 season. I was very interested in this signing because in the three years that I had been following the Red Sox, the player with the most stolen bases in one season was Scott Fletcher, who stole 16 in 1993. The Red Sox have not historically been big on stolen bases. Their team season record was 54, a modestly high number, but not a great number. So, having a player who stole 72 bases a couple of seasons earlier presented an interesting possibility.

Otis Nixon performed exactly as he was expected to in 1994. He batted .274, a decent, but not particularly good batting average, with 55 walks to make a .360 on-base percentage, one of just a few years where he had a little better than average OBP. He did not hit a single home run, had only one triple, and 15 doubles, so his slugging percentage was a painfully low .317. But, he stole 42 bases in 52 attempts. And, he would have easily taken the season record for stolen bases, had the 1994 season not been shortened by the strike. Nixon was on pace to steal 59 bases that year.

Unfortunately, Nixon would not be given another chance at breaking the Red Sox single season stolen base record. He was packaged along with Luis Ortiz in a trade to the Texas Rangers for another unusual veteran to play for the Red Sox, Jose Canseco. Nixon stole 54 bases for Texas in 1996 and 59 for Toronto and Los Angeles in 1997. He could have easily broken the team record. Instead, I had to wait until 2009 when Jacoby Ellsbury stole 70 bases to finally see that record fall. It could have been much earlier.

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