Despite a short-lived major-league career that encompassed just 40 pitching appearances, Nelson Chittum managed to play for two of the major leagues’ most illustrious franchises – the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox – in his three seasons in the league.
Of English-German descent, Nelson Boyd Chittum was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on March 25, 1933. He grew up in Ashby, a town in in Rockingham County, Virginia. He was the younger of two sons born to Auther Chittum, an edge trimmer in a shoe factory, and Edna (Royer) Chittum, a joiner in a shirt factory. Nelson’s older brother, William, was born in 1929. Nelson attended Harrisonburg public schools for grades one through five, and then Elizabethton (Pennsylvania) schools from that point forward.
A standout pitcher at Elizabethtown High School (he lettered in basketball and football as well, and graduated in 1951) and in two years at Elizabethtown College, Chittum served in the US Army from 1953 to 1955. Chittum was signed by scout Fred Dorman of the St. Louis Cardinals in October 1953, just before his induction, for $250 a month. (He hadn’t known he might have been able to get some bonus money.) In August 1954, while still in the Army, he married Shirley Faye Stahl. They had one child, Nelson Bruce Chittum. (“Same initials, but not Junior. We call him Bruce,” he told a Boston sportswriter.1 The Army stationed him in Germantown, and he was able to play semipro baseball in York County during the summers. He recalled, "They'd pay me 25 bucks to pay and I would pay somebody 10 bucks to take my KP."2
The right-hander dominated in his first year in professional baseball in the Class C California League as a member of the 1956 Fresno Cardinals. With a heavy, 266-inning workload, he won 23 games and lost seven. His debut game was a two-hit, 11-0 win over San Jose. He posted a solid 3.62 ERA, en route to winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award. He won three more games in the playoffs, beating San Jose and then Stockton. Chittum was promoted to Double-A Houston (Texas League) the next year, now making $500 per month, recording 14 complete games, three shutouts, and a 16-12 record in 31 starts. With 7? innings of relief in the decisive seventh game of the playoffs, Chittum allowed only three singles and won the game as Houston came from behind to top Dallas, 4-3.3 Houston then defeated Atlanta of the Southern Association in the 1957 Dixie Series, Chittum winning Game Two, 4-1.
Chittum advanced to Triple-A for 1958, going 12-8 for the Omaha Cardinals with a 2.84 ERA. His pay was up to $750 a month.
He was called up by the Cardinals in August and broke into the big leagues on the 17th in a road contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He started the game and was given a 5-0 lead, but surrendered six runs (all earned) in three innings. His mound opponent, Sandy Koufax, failed to get out of the second inning. Koufax allowed four runs in 1? innings, taking the loss. Despite a rough day on the hill, Chittum did help the Cardinals’ batting attack, collecting his first major-league hit with an RBI single off reliever Babe Birrer in the third inning. St. Louis won, 12-7, the win going to Jim Brosnan.
Needing a strong game after wavering in his first career start, Chittum started against the Philadelphia Phillies in a home game on the 20th. He was knocked out in the third inning after yielding four runs. He’d appeared in 13 games by season’s end and finished with a record of 0-1. His loss came to the Pittsburgh Pirates at home on August 27 when he gave up three runs in three innings. After that game, manager Fred Hutchinson placed Chittum in the bullpen – a move that proved permanent for the right-hander’s major-league career. Chittum’s ERA, which stood at a whopping 16.88 after his two horrid starts, was 6.44 by season’s end. He played for Licey, in the Dominican Republic, over the winter. "That was a big mistake," he told writer Burt Wilson. After the season, the Cardinals fired Fred Hutchinson and hired Solly Hemus. Had Chittum gone to Japan with the Cardinals for a number of exhibition games, rather than to winter ball, Hemus would have gotten to know him better.4
During spring training in 1959, the Cardinals traded Chittum to the Red Sox for left-handed pitcher Dean Stone “and other considerations.”53 The trade was, the Boston Globe declared, “of no great magnitude.”6
Chitttum once described his pitching style: "I threw everything but the ball. I'd throw 'em the arm, the elbow, the glove, and then I'd throw the ball…I had a good sinker, a good slider, good location. I didn't walk anybody, didn't strike out many guys but kept the ball down, made 'em hit ground balls, pop flies."7
Chittum spent the first four months of the 1959 season with the Minneapolis Millers, where he put up a record of 11-5 (3.64) in 25 games, 14 of them starts. Called up to Boston after the Red Sox sold pitcher Jack Harshman to Cleveland on July 30, Chittum became a staple of Boston’s bullpen. In his Red Sox debut, on August 1 against Detroit, he gave up a single to the first batter he faced but then retired the next six. He “displayed good control and a good sinker,” wrote the Boston Herald.8
In 21 August and September relief appearances, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound righty gave up only four earned runs in 30? innings pitched. Chittum did not give up a single homer, allowed just four extra-base hits (all doubles), and finished with a team-best 1.19 ERA. Over his first 17 innings, he had an ERA of 0.52. Asked what a new pitcher needed to learn when arriving in the majors, Chittum said, “The batters, the umpires and yourself. … Control yourself and you can control the ball.” He added, “I just wish it was as simple as I tell it.”9
Chittum’s sacrifice bunt drove in the game-winner in the top of the eighth against the Chicago White Sox on August 26. (Ironically, pitcher Chittum was batting in Ted Williams’s spot in the batting order after the slugger had been replaced in a lineup switch.) The Red Sox finished in seventh place, with a 75-79 record under managers Mike Higgins and Billy Jurges, who replaced Higgins in midseason. Chittum’s won-lost record was 3-0.
The next season was the last for Chittum in the major leagues. He pitched in just six games in 1960, producing a 4.32 ERA without a decision. His final major-league appearance came on May 4, a contest in which Chittum gave up a run in one-third of an inning during a 5-3 loss to the Kansas City Athletics. In 68 innings pitched in the majors, the right-hander had a 3.84 ERA and won three of his four decisions. In 11 plate appearances (10 at-bats), Chittum had a single, a double, and the sacrifice bunt, for a .200 batting average. He had two RBIs. He handled 20 fielding chances without making an error.
Two days after pitching against the Athletics at Fenway Park, Chittum was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Rip Repulski “and an undisclosed amount of money.”10 Repulski made an immediate impression, with a pinch-hit grand slam in his first Red Sox at-bat.
After acquiring Chittum, the Dodgers sent him to Montreal of the International League. He remained in the Dodgers’ farm system until 1962, playing for affiliates in the three Triple-A leagues that existed then: the International, the American Association, and the Pacific Coast League. Chittum started more often than not. Chittum played for the Montreal Royals in 1960, the Omaha Dodgers (American Association) in 1961 and part of 1962, and Spokane (PCL) in 1963, and played with Ponce in the Puerto Rican winter league after the 1961 campaign. “There’s only one place to play baseball – the big leagues,” he said in 1961. “That’s my goal.” He appreciated the “much better parks and better fielders behind you.”11 There was, however, no third time up.
Starting the 1962 season with Spokane, Chittum lost all nine of his decisions and finished with a 4.78 ERA. He was traded back with Omaha in June and went 1-5 (4.32 ERA) there, for a combined 1-14 record.
Chittum ended his minor-league career with the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles in the International League. In two seasons (1963-1964) with the Red Wings, Chittum furnished 24 wins and 19 losses. He had three shutouts.
Chittum retired from baseball after the 1964 season. He went out on top; Rochester had won the International League playoffs. In nine seasons at the minor-league level, Chittum recorded 106 wins against 82 losses and a 3.64 ERA.
After baseball, he worked for RCA and then a clothing store in Elizabethton, ultimately settling in working for the post office. After 3 1/2 years, he became a postal inspector and was stationed in several locales, the last two being Detroit and Nashville. He retired in Nashville. The Chittums later relocated to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
Last revised: October 17, 2014
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the authors also accessed Chittum’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
Thanks as well to Nelson Chittum for supplying the Intelligencer Journal article which supplied a number of additional details.
1 Boston Traveler, September 1, 1959.
2 Burt Wilson, Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), April 9, 2003.
3 Dallas Morning News, September 29, 1957.
4 Intelligencer Journal, op. cit.
5 Boston Herald, March 15, 1959. The Boston Traveler wrote that the consideration was “cash.”
6 Boston Globe, March 15, 1959.
7 Intelligencer Journal, op. cit.
8 Boston Herald, August 2, 1959.
9 Boston Traveler, September 1, 1959.
10 Boston Daily Record, May 7, 1960.
11 Omaha World Herald, April 14, 1961.