Nicol, Hugh (1858-1921) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections
Hugh Nicol, son of Robert and Mary Nicol, was born in Campsie, Scotland, January 1, 1858. He came to the United States with his parents when he was a child, and the family settled in Rockford, Illinois.
As a boy he learned the trade of a marble cutter, but his ability as a baseball player attracted much attention that by the time he was in his early teens, he was playing regularly on one of the leading amateur clubs. When he was 19 years old, his fame as a player gained such proportions that he was signed as a regular member of Anson's Chicago team in the National league. He was the youngest man on the club and from the time he joined the outfit he was known as one of its star performers.
His work in the outfield was spectacular and as a base runner he was particularly expert. Three years after joining the Chicago club the St. Louis Browns acquired the young star, and he remained with them until 1887 when he was transferred to the Cincinnati Reds. Later he went to the Kansas City Blues and from there he went back to the St. Louis Browns.
While he was a member of the Browns the team won two world's series championships, and he was a factor in every game.
Mr. Nicol was the first baseball player who ever used the head-first slide, and he won considerable renown by originating this daring method of stealing a base. He gained the nick-name of "Little Nic" and was held in such high esteem in St. Louis that a club of young men was organized bearing his name, The Little Nic club, named after him, became one of St. Louis' thriving athletic clubs.
When he went to the St. Louis club the last time, Mr. Nicol was made manager of the team, and he went from there to Rockford, Illinois, his old home, where he purchased the Rockford franchise in the Three-I baseball league. He owned and managed the Rockford club successfully for several years and then took the franchise to Peoria, where he remained for two years as owner and manager of the Peoria team.
It was in 1906 that Mr. Nicol came to Purdue as athletic director. At that time R. W. Rusterholz was president of the athletic association. Purdue had never had a director of athletics, and the affairs of the athletic department were in the hands of the students with faculty assistance.
There was much work for the new director to do, in order to put the various branches of sport on a sound basis and establish an effective financial system. When he arrived at the university, Mr. Nicol found a deficit in the treasury of the athletic association. This he quickly wiped out and within a year or two he had built the athletic department up to such a degree that it was regarded as one on the best managed departments of its kind to be found in any midwestern college.
Mr. Nicol established the coupon system of season tickets for Purdue games and this was one of the many innovations which he introduced there, all of them contributing to the upbuilding of athletics. His energy, foresight and organizing ability were ever in evidence and before he retired from control of Purdue athletics, he had all debts paid and a surplus of $18,000 in the treasury.
He turned out two conference championship baseball teams while he was at Purdue, and there was never a year when his teams were not a factor in the race for the Big Ten pennant. He was also responsible for establishing physical training classes for students and faculty and for the system of inter-class sports which developed into one of the most interesting and helpful features of the university's athletic program.
It was Mr. Nicol who conceived the idea of requiring every student to learn how to swim, and he personally directed the work of instruction in the gymnasium tank. He built up the facilities on Stuart field and established the system of student police at Purdue athletic contests and was forever conceiving new ideas to add to the efficiency of the athletic work. In 1908 the graduating class at Purdue dedicated the Debris to Mr. Nicol and made him an honorary member of the class, awarding him the class hat and corduroys. This was a distinction he greatly enjoyed.
He labored long and hard to accomplish what he did and gave the best part of his life to the work, never sparing himself and always toiling with the one object in view, to make Purdue athletics the best in the conference.
Mr. Nicol was also a prime mover in establishing the Lafayette Country Club, and in recognition of the services he rendered in this connection, the club made him an honorary life member of the organization, an honor conferred on no other person.