Sunday, June 26, 2016

R.I.P. Gentleman Jim

Time marches on and no man or woman on this earth is safe from the figurative steamroller - everyone has their time.  News has been rolling out since late last night/early this morning that former Cubs outfielder/first baseman Jim Hickman became that steamroller's latest claim.

This single from the Timeless Teams set put out by Upper Deck in 2004 represents Mr. Hickman in my CATRC binder:

The lifetime Tennessee native passed away while in hospice care from unspecified causes - he was 78 years old.

Of course, to Cubs fans of a certain age (or those who fanatically study their history), Hickman's should ring a few bells and stir some emotions, possibly good or bad - you see, "Gentleman Jim" was a key contributor on that 1969 Chicago Cubs squad that very nearly broke the most infamous drought in sports history.  In his first year of regular action on the Northside, Hickman posted a .234 batting average with 21 homers in 134 games.

However, before that, Jim had been a member of the very team that broke so many Chicago baseball fans' hearts that fateful season - the Miracle Mets.  His rookie season was also the first campaign for the Flushing, NY club (1962) and he spent the next four seasons suffering as a rover in the outfield and sometimes a corner infielder for the hapless club.  After one terrible season spent with the Dodgers in 1967 (.163  AVG in 114 PA), the Cubs came a-callin' for his services, looking to buy low on his power potential.

In one of then GM John Holland's most beneficial trades, Hickman's services were secured for the low, low cost of outfielder Ted Savage and pitcher Jim Ellis.  Savage spent the rest of his career as a AAAA-type nomad, while Ellis would never see the Big Leagues in LA.  We can definitely mark that trade down as a win.

I swiped that Ellis scan from Ebay - if anyone happens to have that Fritsch OYW issue, I'd sure love to trade ya!

From there, Hickman went on to earn regular playing time in Leo Durocher's clubhouse.  After his productive line in that poorly-ended, 1969 schedule, Hickman went on to post his breakout season in 1970 at the age of 33.  All he did was go out and hit .315 with 32 home runs and 115 RBI as a sudden middle of the order threat, splitting time in the outfield with becoming the nearly-finished Ernie Bank's successor at first base.  For his troubles, he was awarded with an All-Star selection.

Courtesy of the All-Star honor, "Gentleman Jim" became an interesting footnote and spectator to one of the most infamous moments in the seemingly endless history of America's pastime.  You see, it was Jimmy's RBI single in that All-Star contest that drove in Pete Rose... who then promptly drove into Ray Fosse, permanently upsetting the latter's career.

After a couple more seasons of above-average production bouncing from all three outfield spot and and the first sack, the front-office started to become frustrated with, each season starting out fast from the gate and fading in the dog days of summer.  As such, the sell-off of the 1969 era Cubs spared no one, including Hickman, who found himself dealt to the Cardinals in March of '74 for beleaguered righty Scipio Spinks.

Unlike the trade that brought him to Chicago, this particular transaction was more of wash.  While Scipio never got his million dollar arm to agree with his ten cent head and failed to throw a pitch in a Cubs uniform, Hickman played just 50 games in St. Louis before calling it a career.

Upon the end of his Major League career, Jim went back to his native Tennessee to spend the rest of his life running the family farm.  Additionally, the former All-Star spent 20 years as the Cincinnati Reds' minor league hitting coordinator.  By all accounts, it seems as though "Gentleman Jim" lived himself a long and happy life - from Major League All-Star to peaceful farmer.

R.I.P. Jim Hickman - enjoy that big, ol' ballpark in the sky.


  1. Sorry to hear the news but great job on the obit.

  2. That Spinks card is one of the "broken border" variations in the 73 set.