Sam Burnham, Curator
The 1954 New York Yankees had five future Hall of Fame players, including Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. They went 103-51. They finished 2nd in the American League. They lost roughly 33% of their games. Almost 10% of their losses came against one pitcher, a young hurler from southern Floyd County, Georgia. His prowess when facing the Bronx Bombers earned him the nickname “The Yankee Killer.”
Willard Nixon was born in Taylorsville, Georgia but grew up in Silver Creek and Lindale where his parents worked in the Pepperell cotton mill. Nixon played Textile League baseball for Pepperell before starring as a pitcher at Alabama Polytechnic, now known as Auburn. In both the Textile League and in college he was known for his pitching and his hitting.
He was highly successful in both college and the minor leagues. He made it to Boston and eventually secured a role as a starting pitcher. He also saw action as a reliever and as a left handed pinch hitter.
His win-loss record wasn’t as great in the majors as his earlier experience seemed to predict. In fact, he went 11-12 in 1954. Of those 11 wins four came against the Yankees and five came against the Tigers.
Beating the Tigers was not an amazing feat. Despite future Hall of Famer Al Kaline, the Tigers ended 1954 with a 68-86 record. But beating the Yankees four times and then carrying that momentum over into 1955 to give Nixon five straight wins over New York...that’s the stuff of legend in Beantown.
It is well documented that Nixon also had a skill at forgery. He had the ability to mimic the signatures of several Red Sox players, particularly Ted Williams. Attendants would bring a box of balls for Williams to sign and he’d say “Give it to Willard.” So if you have a Ted Williams autographed ball, there’s a good chance it’s really a Willard Nixon autographed ball.
Back in Northwest Georgia, folks don’t remember the 12 losses. They remember the domination of the Yankees. Kids grow up wading in Silver Creek where it flows through Willard Nixon Park. The creek then continues north to Lindale where it goes through the middle of the old cotton mill where his parents worked and where he got his start in baseball. When those kids ask who Willard Nixon was, they learn about The Yankee Killer.
There’s still a rich baseball tradition in these communities. Willard Nixon was a product of that tradition but a lot of other kids have grown up on those diamonds. I myself played two seasons of t-ball in the shadows of the cotton mill’s smokestacks, where The Yankee Killer got his start. My ball playing days ended like the vast majority of the kids that play down there, which is to say not playing professionally on any level. But the legend lives on of one that made it to the show, the Georgia boy that the Yankees couldn’t beat, Willard Nixon, The Yankee Killer.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire