You're not required to speak Latin if you want to join the Nellie Fox Society, but it wouldn't hurt. That way if someone says, "Eamus, O Tibialia Alba," you'll know he means, "Let's go, White Sox."
The Nellie Fox Society is a group composed mostly of Chicago White Sox fans and dedicated to the memory of the late Sox second baseman. Its specific goal is to get Jacob Nelson Fox voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor to which Fox has come closer than anyone—except, of course, those who have been voted in.
"When you dissect the career of Nellie Fox and compare his numbers to those of his peers," says Louis Hegeman, a 56-year-old lawyer from LaGrange, Ill., and one of the society's five cofounders, "you see that there's an injustice being done." Fox, the American League MVP in 1959, the last year the White Sox played in the World Series, was a 12-time All-Star. He spent 14 years with the White Sox and finished his 19-year major league career with 2,663 hits, a .288 batting average, the third-lowest strikeouts-per-at-bats ratio in history and the most double plays in American League history. His fielding percentage (.984) is still fourth among AL second basemen who played more than 1,000 games. But Fox, who died of skin cancer at age 47 in 1975, has been unable to crash the gates at Cooperstown. In 1985, the 15th and last year he was eligible to be elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he finished two votes short, with 74.684% of the ballots (75% is needed for induction).
That's where the Nellie Fox Society comes in. In 1986 Hegeman began voicing his discontent about Fox's plight to four fellow Chicago attorneys: Thomas Fitzgerald, E. Michael Kelly, Nicholas Motherway and Gordon Nash Jr. "We're all South Side guys, all Sox fans, and we agreed that Nellie was being denied his rightful spot in Cooperstown," says Hegeman. "So we started getting together to talk about it. Well, the group jumped to one hundred or so people pretty quick, and it took on a life of its own."
Today the 600 members of the Nellie Fox Society include Chicago mayor Richard Daley, former Illinois governor Jim Thompson, columnist George Will, Mary Frances and Mike Veeck (the widow and son of former White Sox owner Bill Veeck) and former Sox players such as Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso, Moose Skowron and Al Smith. The society has judges, lawyers and businessmen, and it has firemen, policemen and plumbers. The Chicago chapter gathers at Harry Caray's Restaurant for quarterly luncheons, where 1959 Sox caps are fashionable. There are also chapters in 10 other states and four foreign countries.
This year the group sent a testimonial video to the 15 members of the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, which includes former players Buck O'Neil, Stan Musial, Monte Irvin, Pee Wee Reese, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams. This committee represents Fox's last chance to get into the Hall. Twelve votes are needed for induction, and the Veterans Committee can elect only one player per year. (The 1996 inductee was former Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning.)
The video was produced by Ken Channer, an investment banker from Inverness, Ill. "Growing up, I was always the littlest kid on the block, just like Nellie, and he was a great inspiration," he says. "Whitey Ford used to say that Nellie hit him harder than anyone else. That's good enough for me."
Hegeman and Channer are both confident that 1997 will be Fox's year and that his plaque will soon be hanging in Cooperstown. But that won't be the end of the Nellie Fox Society. The group will shift its attention to member Pierce, who won 211 games in 18 seasons for the White Sox, the Tigers and the San Francisco Giants.
Anybody else? "There's been talk about working on Ron Santo's behalf," Hegeman says. Wait a minute. Santo? Wasn't he a Chicago Cub? "Remember," Hegeman says, "he played for the White Sox at the end of his career."