The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Marrero native, former 1940s minor leaguer Nolan Vicknair dies at age 99

Nolan Vicknair was proud that he had played professional baseball in 1946 and 1947, but later in his life he expressed regret about not playing longer. Yet the Marrero native’s brief pro career never deterred his love of the sport, as he continued to play in local semi-pro baseball leagues, and later in softball leagues, until his 60s.

Ninety-nine-year-old Vicknair died on June 4. He was one of only a few local athletes still living, who is linked to a noteworthy era of New Orleans baseball in the ‘30s, ’40s, and ‘50s.

Vicknair participated in organized sports at an early age. Newspaper accounts reported he was a bicycle race winner and 75-yard sprint champion representing his hometown of Marrero. When he was in the sixth grade, the Marrero High School baseball coach recruited him to play on the team because of his athleticism and speed.

Vicknair’s initial thoughts of playing pro baseball originated when he pitched in an American Legion game in New Orleans that was attended by Branch Rickey, then St. Louis Cardinals general manager. Rickey told Vicknair that he had talent and should consider a career in the pros upon finishing high school.

But World War II interrupted further thoughts Vicknair had about pursuing professional baseball. In April 1943, he enlisted in the Navy as a 17-year-old. He served for nearly three years on the destroyer-class USS Bearrs as part of the Pacific Fleet.

After his discharge from the Navy, he revived the idea of playing baseball professionally. In 1946, Vicknair’s high school coach arranged for him to meet with legendary New York Giants baseball star Mel Ott, a Gretna native. Ott recommended that Vicknair attend the Giants’ spring training camp in Fort Smith, Arkansas for a tryout.

The Giants signed Vicknair to a minor-league contract and assigned him to their Class D affiliate in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As an outfielder, speed and defense were his strengths. But he struggled at the plate. Injuries hindered improvement in his hitting. A leg infection, stemming from being spiked, hampered his progress. That was followed by a broken jaw incurred on a throw by an opposing infielder while sliding into second base. An unfortunate Vicknair was sent home after 45 games.

He attended the Giants’ spring camp in New Jersey in 1947. Upon learning he was being assigned to Oshkosh again, he asked the organization for his release. Vicknair felt he was being evaluated as a first-year player again, when he figured he should have been promoted to the next minor-league level.

Vicknair returned to New Orleans and ended up signing with Class D New Iberia in the Evangeline League, where fellow New Orleanian Lenny Yochim was a teammate. But after a change in the team’s manager early in the season, he was released by the club after playing only 11 games.

However, he didn’t give up the game, becoming player-manager of the West Bank-based Mohawks, a semi-pro team in the early 1950s. He also played for teams in the semi-pro Audubon League and Mel Ott League into the 1960s. As he got older, he began playing softball for his employer, Avondale Shipyards, a perennially formidable team in the city-wide CAA league. A newspaper account noted he hurled the first no-hitter in the league’s history. Vicknair continued to play softball into his 60s.

In an interview with Vicknair in 2015, he said he regretted not continuing to pursue a professional baseball career after his 1947 release. He blamed himself for not being persistent enough to overcome his setbacks. However, he was grateful for all the years he was able to compete afterwards in local leagues.

Vicknair was one of the original members of the Diamond Club of Greater New Orleans, whose members were former professional and semi-pro players and interested parties [umpires, scouts, sports writers, and sports announcers].

Vicknair was honored at a 2018 New Orleans Baby Cakes game on “Military Awareness Night.” Then 83 years old and looking as though he could still suit up for a game, he threw out the first pitch.

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