In search of a topic for today’s post, I solicited one on Twitter. I said I’d write for 45 minutes on whatever people came up with. The first topic submitted, by Pete Beatty, was “Otis Nixon’s Hair.” I have done my best:
When I think of Otis Nixon I don’t think of his hair. I think of his face. Otis Nixon had the face of a man who had lived a dozen lives. It was expressive and weather-beaten and looked like something out of an American folk art exhibit. Hell, Otis Nixon’s entire career could have been folk art. And now that I’m researching his life, well, the rest of it could be folk art too.
I will write about his hair because that is my assignment. But mostly I will write about his life and legacy. Otis Nixon was born in January 1959 in Evergreen, North Carolina. A fitting name for his hometown because Otis Nixon exudes permanence. On Baseball-Almanac, his high school is listed as unknown. Wikipedia and Baseball Reference eschew any allusion to his high school whatsoever.
It’s not as if Otis Nixon emerged out of the tobacco fields of North Carolina to become a light-hitting, fast-running, switch-hitting center fielder. It may have seemed like that to me, because by the time I became a cognitive baseball fan, Otis Nixon was already an established veteran ballplayer. But in that interlude after his career began and before I became aware of it, Otis Nixon faced hard times. He had drug problems. He missed the 1991 World Series because of a drug suspension. He was an alcoholic.
The definitive Otis Nixon is probably the one you see in this Braves image from the late 1990s. I’ll always think of Otis Nixon as a Brave. Maybe because of pictures like this, maybe the 1999 World Series.
By the time this photo was taken he was around 40 and his face had reached fully petrified Otis Nixon status. Plus there was enough of that hair left to give a glimpse of the dashing Otis Nixon of a few years earlier. The Otis Nixon who stole 70 bases in a year and six in a single game. The Otis Nixon who shined in an era of similar (if often better) outfielders, like Brett Butler and Vince Coleman and even Kenny Lofton. You can still imagine the jheri curl pushing through the helmet and flying backward in the wind as Otis Nixon blasts off out of his long lead at first base.
Otis Nixon would tell you that he blasted off a lot then (sorry, couldn’t resist). He was a drunk and an addict. There were arrests and accusations of violence from men and women as recently as five or six years ago. But now Otis Nixon, like any American Folk Hero, has evolved. He’s a Christian. He is married to Candi Staton, a soul and gospel singer you might have heard of. He runs the Otis Nixon Foundation and On-Track Ministries. And best of all, he’s written a book with an awesomely Clyde Frazier-esque title: Keeping It Real With Otis Nixon.
Here is talking about it:
He talks like a baseball player. He makes corny jokes. The whole thing looks a little unscripted, a little unplanned, and like most everything else on Youtube, amateurish. The hair is gone, too. The hair that prompted this hastily written essay. But the face, small and sinewy and cut from wood, looks entirely the same.