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David Wayne Nilsson

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[edit] Biographical Information

Catcher/first baseman Dave Nilsson was, arguably, the most accomplished Australian baseball player in history. He was the first Australian to make the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. He was MVP of the first major international competition in which the Australian national team won a Gold Medal. He won a Silver Medal in the Olympics. In the Australian Baseball League, Nilsson set numerous records. His career was sidelined several times due to injuries, including foot, shoulder, knee and virus problems. He later led a group that purchased the ABL and tried to keep it afloat under a new name and structure. Nilsson was part of the first All-Australian battery in major league history. Australian baseball analysts Flintoff & Dunn write that "David Nilsson owns the biggest profile in Australian baseball history".[1]

[edit] Baseball Family

Dave is part of a big Australian baseball clan. One brother, Gary Nilsson, pitched one year in the USA. Another brother, Bob Nilsson, once was on the Australian national team. A third brother, Ron Nilsson, played in the Australian leagues (as did Gary, Bob and Dave). Nephew Jay Nilsson (Bob's son) debuted in the minor leagues in 2006, Mitch Nilsson (Gary's son) in 2009 and Daniel Nilsson (Ron's son) have represented Australia at the Youth World Championships. His sister in law Libby Nilsson has also played for the Queensland Rams women's team.

[edit] Early promise

Dave Nilsson was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in January of 1987 as an amateur free agent. He made his professional debut that year with the Helena Brewers, batting .394/~.457/.473. Nilsson ranked third in the Pioneer League in batting average but was left off the league All-Star Team at catcher in favor of Frank Colston, who hit .397. Baseball America rated Nilsson the #2 prospect in the league, following Andres Santana.[2]

Nilsson won the Helms Award as MVP of the 1988 Claxton Shield.[3]

[edit] Struggling in A ball

The teenager was in full-season A ball that summer, hitting .223/.310/.310 for the Beloit Brewers.[4] In 1989, the left-handed hitter batted .244/~.317/.335 for the Stockton Ports. [5]

When the Australian Baseball League was started, Nilsson played for the Gold Coast Clippers. He hit .277/.386/.429 and was not among the league leaders in any department.[6]

[edit] Significant improvement

In 1990, Nilsson returned to Stockton, where his batting line was .290/.362/.426.[7] Stockton won the California League title and Baseball America rated him the league's 8th-best prospect.[8]

Nilsson's stock took off in the 1990-1991 Australian Baseball League. Now with the Daikyo Dolphins, he batted .400/.453/.785.[9] He was second to fellow Milwaukee prospect John Jaha in batting average, third in slugging behind Jaha and Tony Adamson, 4th in hits (54), 4th in home runs (12), 4th in RBI (37) and 2nd to Adamson in total bases (27). [10] Along with brother Bob, he helped Daikyo finish 31-9, best in the league. Dave was named to the league All-Star team at catcher and won the MVP Award.[11]

At age 22, Dave dazzled for the El Paso Diablos (.418/~.475/.598 in 65 games at AA) and hit .232/~.348/.347 for the Denver Zephyrs after his promotion to AAA.[12] Had he qualified, he would have led the Texas League in average by 54 points. Nilsson joined Ivan Rodriguez as the two TL All-Star catchers. Baseball America named Nilsson the league's #4 prospect after Rodriguez, Royce Clayton and Raul Mondesi. [13] His .366 composite average led the affiliated minor leagues [14], though it was well behind Rich Renteria's .442 in the Mexican League, which led Organized Baseball. Due to left shoulder problems, Milwaukee ended Nilsson's season early instead of issuing him a September call-up. [15] He was rated Milwaukee's #2 prospect after Tyrone Hill. [16]

Nilsson returned to lead Daikyo in the winter of 1991-1992, hitting .403/.519/.613. Had he qualified, Nilsson would have led the league in average but he only played 20 games. Daikyo went on to win the title. [17]

[edit] Early major league career

Nilsson hit .317/~.376/.479 for Denver in 1992. [18] He made his major league debut that year, hitting .232/.304/.354 for the 1992 Brewers for a 85 OPS+ in 51 games. In his first game in the majors, he hit 9th and played catcher. He struck out against Eric King in his first at-bat in The Show but later in the game delivered a 3-run double off of Kevin Ritz. Nilsson was one of the 10 youngest players in the 1992 AL.

In the 1992-1993 Australian Baseball League, the young catcher hit just .160/.300/.200 in 10 games. Dave was the most frequently used catcher for the 1993 Brewers, batting .257/.336/.375 and having a couple injury rehab appearances in the minor leagues. He joined with Graeme Lloyd on April 14 to form the first All-Australian battery in major league history.

Nilsson moved to the Brisbane Bandits for the 1993-1994 Australian Baseball League campaign and did very well, producing at a .362/.474/.695 clip. He homered on his first swing of the season. To reduce strain on his legs, he played third base for half of the campaign. [19] He led the ABL in slugging by 25 points over Brendan Kingman, was second to Homer Bush in average, placed third with 47 RBI, tied for 4th with 28 walks and was second in OBP, 10 points behind Greg Jelks. [20] He was named to the league All-Star team at catcher. [21] Milwaukee had originally requested that Nilsson be returned to the team in time for spring training but they later decided to let him stay for the playoffs. He helped Brisbane to an upset win over the Sydney Blues for the championship; he formed a brother battery with Gary Nilsson for the final inning of the last round. [22]

Nilsson had his first full major league season in 1994, hitting .275/.326/.451 with 28 doubles. He hit 8 sacrifice flies to tie Carlos Baerga and Robin Ventura for 4th in the 1994 AL.

Joining the Waverley Reds after signing a 5-year deal, Nilsson batted .388/.471/.775 with 56 RBI in 54 games in the 1994-1995 ABL. [23] Nilsson led the league in hitting by 23 points, led in slugging, was second in RBI (56) and led in OBP. [24] He was again chosen as the All-Star catcher, though he failed to take home the MVP, which went to RBI leader Scott Metcalf. [25] Dave delivered a crucial two-run single in the finals against MLB teammate Graeme Lloyd as Waverley won the pennant to give Nilsson his third ABL title. [26]

Unfortunately, Nilsson contracted Ross River Fever, an Australian virus, while playing winter ball and he missed the first two months of the 1995 Brewers season. [27] Nilsson hit over .400 at all three rehab stints and returned to hit .278/.337/.468 for Milwaukee. His 103 OPS+ was his best to that point, but his value was reduced by his being used primarily as a corner outfielder instead of as a catcher.

[edit] Peak major league seasons

Nilsson began to regret his five-year deal with the Waverley Reds (even though he was part-owner of the team) and tried to return to his hometown of Brisbane. The dispute lasted six months. The Reds and Nilsson were able to come to an agreement that he would play for them in the 1995-1996 ABL, after which he would be free to return to Brisbane. [28] He hit .250/.415/.469 in limited action after he and Waverley came to terms. [29]

Nilsson again started his big league season late, this time due to a broken foot. [30] He had a productive year, though, setting career MLB highs in average (.331) and OBP (.407) while slugging .525 for a 130 OPS+. He hit 33 doubles and 17 home runs, scored 81 runs and drove in 84 in 123 games. He was 6th in the 1996 AL in batting average.

Nilsson became a player-manager in Australia in 1996-1997, returning to Brisbane. [31] Knee surgery cut his season short, but he batted .420/.500/.640 after returning, with a double and a home run in his first game of the season. [32] Nilsson piloted the team to the finals, where they lost. Had he qualified, he would have led the ABL in batting average.

Dave bounced between first base, left field and DH in 1997, batting .278/.352/.446 with 20 home runs for a letdown after his 1996 campaign. He did not play in Australia that winter, missing an ABL season for the first time, due to injuries. He hit .269/.339/.437 for the 1998 Brewers.

Nilsson's last major league season came when he was still just 29 years old. It was his best campaign in many years; he hit .309/.400/.554 with career highs in slugging, OPS+ (140) and home runs (21) for the 1999 Brewers. He was also healthy enough to catch regularly for the first time in five years. In the 8th inning of the 1999 All-Star Game, he replaced Mike Lieberthal as the National League catcher, becoming the first Australian to play in a Major League Baseball All-Star Game. He struck out in his only All-Star Game at-bat, facing John Wetteland in the 9th inning.

[edit] Stardom in international competitions

In the 1999 Intercontinental Cup, he hit .379/.457/.517 with a Cup-high 12 RBI to win MVP honors. It was the first Gold Medal Australia won in a major international event. Nilsson was 0 for 4 against Cuba with a RBI in the Gold Medal game; fellow catcher Gary White stole the limelight with the big hit. Nilsson was third in average behind Akinori Iwamura and Claudio Liverziani and made the All-Star team at catcher. [33]

He became a free agent following the 1999 season and opted to sign with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan so that he could represent Australia in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He only hit .180/.206/.262 for Chunichi and was demoted to the minors, then released. While in Australia, he was registered as "Dingo"; players in NPB can choose what name should appear on their jerseys. [34]

During 1999, Nilsson also became the majority owner of the Australian Baseball League, which was renamed the International Baseball League of Australia.

In the 2000 Olympics, Nilsson starred for the hometown Australians, hitting .565/.667/.957 with 6 runs, 6 doubles and 6 RBI in 7 games as a DH/1B. He led the Olympics in average that year, 151 points ahead of runner-up Doug Mientkiewicz. He also led in both slugging and OBP, while he tied Brent Abernathy for the most doubles. He tied Byung-kyu Lee and Nobuhiko Matsunaka for third in hits (13), trailing Abernathy and So Taguchi. Despite his excellent performance, Australia finished just 2-5, ahead of only South Africa. [35]

[edit] Later years

Nilsson returned from a two-year hiatus from baseball to manage the Queensland Rams in the 2003 Claxton Shield, leading them to a surprising title. [36] He returned to the playing field that summer with an appearance for Telemarket Rimini in Serie A1. He hit .280/.561/.920 with 11 RBI in 9 games. [37] [38]

Nilsson played in the Australian season for the first time in five years when he appeared in the 2004 Claxton Shield. He went 5 for 11 with 4 home runs and 12 RBI and even pitched well in one stint on the mound. [39] He led the 2004 Shield in home runs and RBI [40] and was named to the All-Star team at DH [41]. Queensland made it to the finals before losing; facing Chris Oxspring and Craig Anderson, he drove in all 4 Queensland Rams in their 7-4 loss in the championship game. [42]

Nilsson then attempted a comeback in the major leagues. He signed with the Atlanta Braves and hit .236/.323/.309 in 16 games for the Richmond Braves, 5 years after he had last played in Organized Baseball. [43]

Nilsson was back with the Australian national team for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. He again had a productive Olympic performance, batting .296/.441/.444 with 6 runs in 8 games to tie for the Australian lead in runs. He had a perfect fielding percentage at catcher and threw out 5 of 8 attempted base-stealers. He had six walks to tie Nick Theodorou for third, trailing Canadians Danny Klassen and Pete LaForest. In the Gold Medal game, he was 0 for 4 with a walk in a 6-2 loss to Cuba but he almost delivered a key hit. Down 6-2 with two on and none out in the 9th, Nilsson faced Danny Betancourt. He hit a long shot to center field that almost was a homer but CF Carlos Tabares ran it down and caught it at the warning track. [44]

In 2005, he was inducted into the Baseball Australia Hall of Fame as part of the initial class, along with his brother Bob. [45]

Nilsson was 0 for 5 with a strikeout for Australia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. [46]. In 2007, he became head coach of the MLB Australian Academy [47]. In 2008, he was inducted into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame [48].

Nilsson managed the Brisbane Bandits when the ABL was re-established in 2010-2011, guiding the team to a 5th-place finish out of six. His brother Gary was his pitching coach. [49]

[edit] Career Statistics

Overall, Nilsson hit .284/.356/.461 with 105 home runs and a 110 OPS+ in the major leagues. He batted .358 with a .661 slugging percentage in Australian baseball competitions from 1989-2004 with 52 home runs in 735 AB and 196 RBI in 247 games [50]. He was first all-time in average, 24 points ahead of Greg Jelks. He was also 20th in RBI, tied for 11th with 7 triples and tied for 17th in home runs. [51] He ranked first in slugging, 46 points ahead of Jelks and in OBP, 27 points ahead of Jelks. [52]

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL All-Star (1999)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 2 (1997 & 1999)

[edit] Sources

  1. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  2. 1988 Baseball Almanac, pg. 208
  3. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  4. 1989 Baseball Guide, pg. 456
  5. 1990 Baseball Almanac, pg. 148
  6. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  7. 1991 Baseball Guide, pg. 418
  8. 1991 Baseball Almanac, pg. 142
  9. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  10. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 4-4
  11. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 5-4
  12. 1992 Baseball Almanac, pg. 110
  13. 1992 Baseball Almanac, pg. 212-213
  14. 1992 Baseball Almanac, pg. 187
  15. 1992 Baseball Almanac, pg. 187
  16. 1993 Baseball Almanac, pg. 126
  17. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  18. 1993 Baseball Almanac, pg. 124
  19. 1995 Baseball Almanac, pg. 315
  20. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 4-7
  21. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 5-7
  22. 1995 Baseball Almanac, pg. 315
  23. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  24. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 4-8
  25. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 5-8
  26. 1996 Baseball Almanac, pg. 328
  27. ibid
  28. 1997 Baseball Almanac, pg. 334
  29. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  30. ibid
  31. ibid
  32. 1998 Baseball Almanac, pg. 307
  33. Defunct IBAF website; also 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  34. Japan Baseball Daily
  35. Defunct IBAF site; also 2001 Baseball Almanac, pg. 401
  36. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  37. http://schedevita.fibs.it/schedeVita/Main2.aspx
  38. Honkbalsite.com
  39. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  40. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 4-17
  41. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 5-17
  42. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 12-42
  43. 2005 Baseball Almanac, pg. 73
  44. 2005 Baseball Almanac, pg. 423; also defunct IBAF website
  45. Australian Hall of Fame
  46. Defunct World Baseball Classic website
  47. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-36
  48. http://www.act.baseball.com.au/default.asp?Page=47337
  49. http://web.theabl.com.au/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ros&cid=4065&stn=true&sid=t4065 Australian Baseball League website
  50. ibid
  51. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-52
  52. 2007 Flintoff & Dunn Australian Baseball Almanac, pg. 3-53

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