Pitcher Willard Lee Nixon gained fame on the baseball diamonds of Boston, Massachusetts, and other American League cities, but his home was always Floyd County, Georgia. He was born in Taylorsville on June 17, 1928, to Eva Lou Brownlow and Robert Lee Nixon. He first played competitive sports at Pepperell and McHenry high schools. He began working for Pepperell Mills while honing his baseball skills with that organization’s team in the Northwest Georgia Textile League and continued to work for Pepperell during his major league off-seasons.
Nixon’s road to the major leagues began when he attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute (later Auburn University) to play baseball in 1947-48. In his two years there, he was one of the best pitchers in college baseball. During the 1948 Southeastern Conference (SEC) opener, he pitched a two-hit shutout against the University of Mississippi, striking out twenty batters. In his next start he pitched a no-hitter against Tennessee. For the season he struck out 145 batters, setting an SEC record that lasted for thirty-nine years.
After compiling an eighteen-and-three record in two years at Auburn, Nixon turned down a large signing bonus that would have required him to go directly to the major leagues. Instead, he signed a lesser contract with the Boston Red Sox and played for two years in the minor leagues, pitching for teams in Scranton, Pennsylvania; Birmingham, Alabama; and Louisville, Kentucky. He compiled a thirty-six-and-sixteen minor league record and made his major league debut for the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium, in New York, on July 7, 1950.
For the next seven years Nixon compiled a winning record as a valued member of the Boston pitching staff. Although he never won more than twelve games in a season, he dominated the powerful New York Yankees, who won nine American League pennants between 1949 and 1958. Nixon’s success against the Yankees began in 1954 with a streak of six consecutive victories. His 1954-55 record against them was eight wins and three losses with a 2.05 earned run average.
Nixon was an excellent hitter who was used occasionally as a pinch hitter. He compiled a lifetime .242 batting average and led all American League pitchers in 1957 with a .293 average.
Bursitis in his pitching shoulder shortened Nixon’s 1957 season. He tried to come back in 1958, but his one-and-seven record gave him an overall losing record (69-72) and signaled the end of his career. He pitched one more year (1959) for the Minneapolis Millers in the American Association but again experienced arm trouble.
For the next five years he served the Red Sox as a scout before leaving baseball and returning to Pepperell Mills as a purchasing agent. He later served as Floyd County’s police chief and as director of transportation for the Floyd County School System.
Nixon devoted his post-baseball years to his family and to golf. He and his wife, Nancy, married in 1948 and raised three children, William, Mary, and Nancy. Nixon regularly was among the leaders in local amateur golf tournaments.
In 1971 Nixon was among the first inductees into the Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame, and he was elected to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. When he succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease on December 10, 2000, Time magazine noted the passing of the famed “Yankee Killer.”