Joe Nuxhall, a lefthander who pitched his first major league game 1 1/2 months short of his 16th birthday and who was a prominent part of the Cincinnati Reds’ scene both as a player and broadcaster for 60 years, passed away while hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia. Nuxhall was awaiting surgery to insert a pacemaker, and was suffering from a recurrence of cancer since September.
AP Writer Terry Kinney provides background on Nuxhall’s playing career for Yahoo sports;
Brought up by Cincinnati to pitch during World War II — just out of junior high classes, he unraveled at the sight of Stan Musial in the on-deck circle — Nuxhall worked more than six decades for the Reds. He continued to pitch batting practice into the 1980s and was a member of the team’s Hall of Fame.
While he won 135 games, it was on the radio where he became best known. On a franchise filled with Hall of Fame players and big personalities, Nuxhall might have been the most popular of all.
“This is a sad day for everyone in the Reds organization,” outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. said in a statement. “He did so many great things for so many people. You never heard anyone ever say a bad word about him. We’re all going to miss him.”
Reds owner Bob Castellini said Friday that “Joe exemplified everything baseball’s all about, from the mound to the broadcast booth.”
At 15 years, 10 months, 11 days old, Nuxhall was big for his age. He was 6-foot-3 and his parents let him join the Reds when school let out.
Nuxhall spent most of the time watching from the bench, assuming he’d never get into a game. The Reds were trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 13-0 after eight innings when manager Bill McKechnie decided to give the kid a chance.
Nuxhall was so rattled when summoned to warm up that he tripped on the top step of the dugout and fell on his face in front of 3,510 fans at Crosley Field. He was terrified when it came time to walk to the mound.
“Probably two weeks prior to that, I was pitching against seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old,” he recalled. “All of a sudden, I look up and there’s Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation.”
Nuxhall walked one and retired two batters before glancing at the on-deck circle and seeing Musial. Nuxhall unraveled — Musial hit a line-drive single, and the Cardinals scored five runs as the young pitcher lost his ability to throw a strike and failed to get another out. In all, he walked five and threw a wild pitch in two-thirds of an inning.
“Those people that were at Crosley Field that afternoon probably said, ‘Well, that’s the last we’ll see of that kid,”‘ Nuxhall said.
The Reds sent him to the minors, but eight years later he was back with the Reds. Nuxhall spent 15 of his 16 big league seasons with the Reds, going 135-117 before his retirement in 1966.
Baseball Library provides this bit of history on Nuxhall’s career;
He won a career-high 17 games in 1955, leading the league with five shutouts, and pitching 3-1/3 scoreless innings in the All-Star Game. He began having arm trouble in 1960, was traded to the A’s in 1961, and hooked on with the Angels briefly in 1962. A lifetime .198 batter with 15 home runs, in 1961 he hit .292 and contemplated continuing his career as a pinch hitter/first baseman. But he bounced back as a pitcher, returning to the Reds for the 1962 stretch drive and going 5-0. In 1963, he was 15-8, with a career-low 2.61 ERA. Nuxhall retired just before Opening Day 1967, to make room on the roster for rookie Gary Nolan.
Nolan, by the way, went on to be the ace of the staff during the Big Red Machine days of the mid-70’s.
I remember Joe Nuxhall; he beat the Phillies in a number of games in the 1950s both with his pitching and his hitting. In one memorable game in 1958 written up on this blog, Nuxhall pitched the last 2 2/3 innings of a wild game with the Phillies won by the Reds by a 12-11 score. The “the ol’ left-hander” gave up but one hit while striking out three to emerge as the winning pitcher in that game. Nuxhall went 12-11 with a 3.79 ERA for the 1958 season.
Nuxhall was with the Reds when Pete Rose began his career in 1963. Nuxhall hit 15 career homers, including 3 homers each during the 1953, 1954 and 1955 seasons along with a career high 14 RBIs in 1955.
AP’s Kinney also recounts Nuxhall’s post-playing years;
Nuxhall started doing radio broadcasts, describing games in a slow-paced, down-home manner that caught on with listeners. Marty Brennaman became the play-by-play announcer in 1974, and the “Marty and Joe” tandem spent the next 28 seasons chatting about their golf games, their gardens and some of the biggest moments in franchise history.
Nuxhall retired as a full-time radio broadcaster after the 2004 season, the 60th anniversary of his historic pitching debut. Since then, he was heavily involved in charity work, especially his scholarship and character education programs.
He had surgery for prostate cancer in 1992, followed by a mild heart attack in 2001. The cancer returned last February, when he was preparing for spring training in Sarasota, Fla.
Nuxhall called some games last season even though his left leg was swollen by tumors. He was hospitalized again this week.