TEN YEARS before American League hitters were bedazzled by the Bird, they were jolted by Jumbo Jim. In July 1966 righthander Jim Nash broke into the big leagues with the Kansas City Athletics and won his first seven decisions—the best start by an AL rookie since Whitey Ford reeled off nine straight victories in 1950. The 21-year-old Nash, at 6'5" and 230 pounds the heftiest hurler on the A's staff, ended the season with numbers as gaudy as Kansas City's green-and-gold uniforms: a 12-1 record, the league's top winning percentage (.923) and a 2.06 ERA. He finished second to Chicago White Sox outfielder Tommie Agee in balloting for Rookie of the Year, and in a rotation that also included 20-year-old Catfish Hunter (9-11 in '66) and 21-year-old Blue Moon Odom (5-5), Jumbo Jim was the brightest young star.
So did Nashmania approach the sensation caused by Mark (the Bird) Fidrych after he burst onto the scene with the Detroit Tigers in 1976? "I could walk down the street in Kansas City without anyone recognizing me, Nash says. "We were a last-place team. The press gave us good coverage, but it wasn't close to what Fidrych got."
That was fine with Nash, who, at 57, still treasures his anonymity. Most people he meets in his job as an analyst for Bell South don't know that he was a major leaguer, and Nash doesn't talk about his playing days unless he's asked. "I'm proud I played, but it was just an occupation," says Nash, who orders, activates and maintains ISDN accounts. "It's not that big a deal."
As a rookie Nash relied on pinpoint command of his 91-mph fastball to get batters out. Later in his career he developed an off-speed curve, and he was a 13-game winner in 1968 and '70, but chronic shoulder trouble kept him from achieving the greatness suggested by his rookie performance. After going 68-64 in seven seasons combined with the A's, Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, he retired because of a torn rotator cuff. In 1973 he returned to his hometown of Marietta, Ga., with his wife, Merrill, and their two young sons, Jim Jr. and Danny. "Back then when you couldn't get anybody out, teams just said, 'See, ya,' " says Nash, who has been with Bell South for 23 years. "It was time to come home and find a real job."
After his baseball career ended, Nash kept his hand in the game by coaching his children's teams and inaugurating the baseball program at nearby Kennesaw State, a Division II school, in 1985. (Nash was the coach for the first season.) Jim Jr. and Danny played baseball at Shorter College, an NAIA school in Rome, Ga., and Stetson, respectively. Daughter Kathy is a Spanish major and cheerleader at Georgia.
Like most fans Nash, who earned $5,000 as a Kansas City rookie, is amazed by current baseball economics. "It's more of a business for everybody, not just the owners," he says. "Guys make more in a day than I make in a year."