Happy Birthday to the Finest Cincinnati Red Ever
Today, July 30, is Joe Nuxhall's birthday. He would have turned 81 if non-Hodgkin's lymphoma had not given him a case of pneumonia that, on Nov. 15, 2007, he was unable to shake.
To most folks outside of the Cincinnati radio airwaves, Joe Nuxhall is simply known for a baseball novelty record.
Nuxy, as he is known in Reds' country, made his major league debut on June 10, 1944. The lad was only 15 years old, making him the youngest player of the modern era to enter a Major League game.
All major league rosters in 1944 were depleted due to the vast number of players who were overseas fighting in World War II.
With teams desperate to fill spots, scouts combed local neighborhoods looking for warm bodies. The Reds found left-handed pitcher, Joe Nuxhall about 20 minutes away throwing in Hamilton, Ohio.
There was a five diamond baseball field very close to the Nuxhall home.
Every Sunday teams from all over the area would make their way to the ball field. And like every Sunday, scouts would arrive.
"Our game had started on diamond one." Nuxhall told WCPO anchor, Dennis Johnson in a 2005 interview.
"The scouts drove up...Hibiski was our, I guess you would say playground director. We called him commissioner."
The scouts asked, "Where is Orville pitching?"
Hibiski answered, "He's on diamond three."
"Who is the left-hander out there?"
"That's Orville's son."
At this point Nuxhall gives a big "gee whiz" grin and says, "And that's when they said, 'Hell with Orville. We want to look at the kid.'"
On that June day in 1944 when Nuxy made his debut at 15, he pitched two-thirds of an inning, gave up two hits, walked five, hit a guy, threw a wild pitch and ended up allowing five earned.
"So I'm sitting on the bench watching the game, admiring the way the Cardinals are hitting the baseball—line drives everywhere.
"It was the ninth inning and all of a sudden I hear this voice say, 'Joe', and I said, 'Heck he can't be talking to me—we had a couple of other Joe's.
"The next one was a little louder. I looked up, 'Go warm up.' Whoop, things aren't quite as interesting. Now I gotta go warm up.
"So there were three steps out of the dugout at Crosley Field. And I'm nervous now but not near as bad as I'm gonna be. I made the first two steps and tripped over the third one...and landed flat on my face."
Unlike most of the war time signees, Nuxhall stuck with baseball.
Eight years later he was again on the Redlegs' roster. His body had grown into a 6'3", 220 pound frame. Quite large by the standards of the 1950s.
He currently ranks third on the Reds all-time strikeout list and in the top-10 for wins, shutouts, innings pitched, and starts.
Nothing spectacular, just a very solid playing career.
While it is not hard to figure out why Joe Nuxhall is so dear to the hearts of Reds' fans, it is difficult to know for what exactly he is more famous, his playing days or his 37-year broadcasting career.
Nuxy retired from the game in April of 1967. In the same year he was hired, with absolutely zero experience, to join the legendary Waite Hoyt in the radio booth.
After Hoyt retired the Reds hired 22-year-old, Marty Brennaman to do the Reds radio and television broadcasts alongside Nuxhall.
"The first thing I said to him upon shaking his hand was, 'I have your baseball card,'" Brennaman said. "From that day forward, it was a relationship in our profession that people only dream about."
In Cincinnati, during the 1970s and 1980s, the names "Marty and Joe" became as synonymous to Reds' baseball as Morgan, Rose, or Bench.
It was a sort of "good cop, bad cop" duo in the booth. Brennaman was the wisenheimer and Nuxy was the eternal optimist. Marty would poke lighthearted fun at Joe for just about anything imaginable; clothing, golfing, even nose picking. Joe never let it faze him and never retaliated.
That was the beauty of listening to them. Brennaman once said, "You could count on one hand the number of times we were upset with each other."
At the end of every Nuxy broadcast he would say, "This is the 'ol' left-hander' rounding third and heading for home, so long everybody."
Many people forget about the "so long everybody" part. But the way he said it made the listener believe he or she was hearing a farewell from a lifelong friend that made it impossible not to look forward to the next conversation.
Unassuming, polite, and generous are the first three words that come to mind when Nuxy's name is mentioned.
Brennaman said, "In 34 years, not one person ever said anything negative to me about him—not one person. Everybody had wonderful things to say about him. That was the essence of Joe Nuxhall.
"He was unbelievable. I never saw him act like he didn't have time to be with a person or a group of people. He dedicated time to people that came up to him or talked to him. It was as consistent as the sun coming up every day. He was very approachable."
After Nuxhall suffered a 2001 heart attack, Brennaman went to visit his hospital room which was stuffed with flowers, gifts, fan letters, and get well cards.
Brennaman said, "He was genuinely shocked by the way people felt about him, I said, 'Joe, you've got to be kidding me.' He said, 'No, I'm totally overwhelmed by this.' He never came to grips with the fact that so many people loved him in the manner of which they did."
Well, Mr. Nuxhall, believe it.
Hardly a Reds television or radio broadcast goes by when your name is not mentioned in the highest regard.
The ol' left hander has rounded third, is home for eternity, and very much missed.
Happy birthday Joe.
This article is dedicated to my step-dad who is not dead, dying, or sick—just one of many huge Joe Nuxhall fans.
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