Former Indians Catcher Russ Nixon Passes Away at 81

On Wednesday, November 9, former Cleveland Indians catcher Russ Nixon passed away at the age of 81 in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a long illness.

Nixon was born on February 19, 1935, in Cleves, Ohio. After time at Western Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati, he and his twin brother Roy were signed by the in-state Indians in 1953. Roy’s career failed to reach the Major League level, but Russ put together a 12-year career before spending five seasons after his playing days as a big league manager.

William S. Nenez/Cleveland News (pictured: Colavito, G. Bell, Nixon)
William S. Nenez/Cleveland News (pictured: Colavito, G. Bell, Nixon)

After several years hitting for a high average in the Indians’ farm system from 1953 to 1956, Nixon got his first crack at the Major League stage in 1957. At the age of 22, he appeared in 62 games for the Tribe, hitting .281 with a pair of homers and 18 RBI.

He received more regular work behind the plate for the Indians in 1958, appearing in what would be a career-high 113 games. He also established personal bests with four triples, nine homers, and 46 RBI.

Nixon worked in 82 games for the Indians in 1959, but his production dipped as he hit .240 with just one homer and 29 RBI in what would be his last full season in Cleveland.

During spring training, he was sent to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman Jim Marshall and catcher Sammy White, but the trade was later voided nine days later when White refused to report to the Indians. Nixon remained with Cleveland and caught 25 games for the club, but the Indians and Red Sox later rekindled their trade talks and made arrangements on a different swap, sending Nixon and outfielder Carroll Hardy to New England for pitcher Ted Bowsfield and outfielder Marty Keough.

Nixon fielded a heavy workload for Boston, appearing in 80 games and hitting .298 with a return of power and run production. He played with the Sox through the 1965 season, but was sent to the Minnesota Twins at the beginning of the 1966 campaign in a four-player deal.

After two seasons in Minnesota, he was released at the beginning of April in 1968 and returned to Boston for one final season, hitting .153 in 29 games. He was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 draft following the season, but was released prior to the start of the 1969 schedule.

Nixon’s playing days were over, but his managerial career was just beginning. He spent six seasons managing in the minors before he was elevated to Sparky Anderson’s coaching staff with the famed Big Red Machine. He later received an opportunity to lead his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 1982, taking over for John McNamara during the 100-loss campaign for the club. He was 27-43 in the driver seat in his first year and 74-88 in his second, but he was let go at the end of the 1983 season.

Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Nixon circa 1990 – Focus on Sport (Getty Images)

He worked as a coach for the Montreal Expos for two seasons in the mid-80’s before joining the Atlanta Braves as a coach on the staff of Chuck Tanner, his former teammate with the Indians in 1959 and 1960. He would return to the managerial ranks again in 1988 for the Braves, taking over after Tanner’s 12-27 start. Nixon went 42-79 to close out the season before posting records of 63-97 and 25-40 in the next two years before he was replaced in 1990 by Bobby Cox in a move that ultimately led to the revival of the Braves franchise in the 90’s as Cox would lead Atlanta to a 94-68 record and a trip to Game 7 of the World Series the very next year.

Nixon returned to managing in the minors off and on over the next 15 seasons, with his last stop with Houston’s Appalachian League Greeneville affiliate in 2005. He retired from his professional baseball career in 2009 after 56 seasons in a variety of roles, including that of a player, coach, manager, and scout.

Nixon holds the distinction of being a manager of the only Reds team to lose 100 games in its extensive 135-year history (a title shared with McNamara, who was credited with 58 of the 101 defeats) and being the MLB record holder for most games played (906) without stealing a single base. He was also the catcher at the plate for Boston when New York’s Roger Maris broke the all-time single-season home run record in 1961, surpassing Babe Ruth‘s long-time record of 60.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Glenda; three daughters; one son; his twin brother, Roy; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Photo: Trading Card Database – 1957 Cleveland Indians picture pack

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