The last baseball season of the 1950s saw a scrappy team from Chicago flip the prevailing script of the decade that listed the New York Yankees as perennial pennant winners.
For the 1959 American League champion Chicago White Sox, there was arguably no brighter star than second baseman Nellie Fox.
On Nov. 12, 1959, the diminutive Fox was honored as the American League’s Most Valuable Player. Fox played a league-leading 156 games in 1959 while batting .306 and recording the second-most hits (191) and doubles (34) in the Junior Circuit. He also earned his sixth consecutive All-Star selection – his seventh total – and second Gold Glove Award at second base.
Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing no more than 160 pounds, Fox was the iconic symbol of a lively club that would come to be affectionately known as the “Go Go Sox.” Crouched over the plate with a choked-up batting grip, Fox often set the table for a White Sox team that employed speed and timely hitting instead of power to generate runs.
In his autobiography "Veeck – As In Wreck", White Sox owner Bill Veeck wrote that his team needed Fox “no more than your baby needs milk.”
The White Sox were known as a talented bunch who couldn’t get over the hump for much of the 1950s. The team posted third-place finishes for five consecutive seasons until 1957, when Hall of Fame manager Al Lopez emerged from a temporary retirement to take over the club. Lopez’s aggressive tactics and overwhelming confidence in his players lit a fire under Chicago, and the team began nipping at the vaunted Yankees’ heels with second-place finishes in 1957-58.
Boosted by deals that netted them future Hall of Famers Larry Doby and Early Wynn, the Go Go Sox finally went all the way in 1959. The team got off to a hot start and never looked back, winning 94 games and capturing its first pennant since the tarnished Black Sox scandal of 1919.
Nellie Fox of the Chicago White Sox in the dugout - BL-2394-95 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
Despite Fox’s .375 average in the 1959 World Series, the Go Go Sox fell short in the Fall Classic, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to two. Fox would go on to play for six more seasons – including four with Chicago – before retiring after the 1965 campaign.
Over a total of 19 big league seasons, Fox played in 12 All-Star games and captured three Gold Glove Awards – despite the award not being introduced until 1957. He was among the premier infielders of his generation, leading the American League in hits four times during the 1950s, and set a major league record by playing 798 consecutive games at second base.
“I've never seen anybody who wanted to play more than Fox did,” said Paul Richards, Fox’s manager in Chicago from 1951-54. “In spring training, you had to run him off the field to get him to rest -- and I mean literally run him off.”
Fox passed away in 1975 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
In 1990, upon his own induction, legendary second baseman Joe Morgan – who was mentored by Fox in his early days with the Colt .45s/Astros – identified Fox as his idol.
“I played with him, and I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for what I learned from him,” Morgan said. “Above all, Nellie impressed upon me the importance of going to the park every day bringing something to help the team.”
Matt Kelly was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum