On June 10th, 1944, the Cincinnati Reds were being blanked at home in the top of the 9th inning by the first-place St. Louis Cardinals, 13-0. Cincinnati Manager Bill Mckechnie, who 4 years earlier had guided the Reds to a World Series victory, looked at his bench and saw a roster that had been depleted by the World War II draft. What seems unlikely, if not impossible today was commonplace back then – as many of the biggest and brightest names in Major League Baseball were drafted to fight for our country in the second World War. The previous year, in 1943, Cincinnati scouts had signed a local southpaw from Hamilton, Ohio. The lefty was tall for his age, and the hardest-throwing kid in his grade. He was quickly – desperately - signed as a Cincinnati Red prospect at the age of 14, and 1 year later found himself in the bullpen for Bill Mckechnie’s struggling National League outfit.
Joe Nuxhall made his Major League debut that day, at 15 years old. A forgetful performance – allowing 5 runs and throwing a wild pitch in 2/3 of an inning – would not soon be forgotten. 63 years later, “The Old Lefthander” was still a member of the Cincinnati Reds team – albeit in the broadcasting booth as opposed to on the pitching mound. His 7-decade relationship with Cincinnati is unparalleled – lasting longer than Yogi Berra’s with the Yankees or Tommy Lasorda’s with the Dodgers.
These days, a statue of Nuxhall stands in bronze on the footsteps of Great American Ballpark, just a small tribute to the legendary Cincinnati Reds icon. 40 years ago, Joe moved his Reds career into the broadcasting booth, doing color commentary alongside Waite Hoyt and then eventually Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman. It’s impossible to overstate Joe’s significance to Reds fans. Joe’s delivery could never match the smooth, docile tones of Jim Nantz whispering through the back 9 of a Sunday at Augusta, and he would never be mistaken for the classy professionalism of Tom Hammonds at the Olympics. Instead, Joe gave you the game of baseball the way you wanted to hear it. He delivered the game in a down-to-earth manner, more suitable to the local barber shop or the dive bar down the street. He delivered the game in between chain-smoking his non-filters, and through sustained lengths of silence. You didn’t like it – but that’s because you aren’t a Reds fan, and if you don’t understand, then I’m sure as hell not going to explain it to you. The Old Lefthander was OUR radio guy. The one that you likened to your grandfather. He read you your bedtime stories as a kid – the ones that usually started a little after 7 o’clock on summer nights, and didn’t end until he signed off 54 outs later.
Joe’s legend would continue to grow well into his later years. He established an education fund in 2003, and co-wrote a book about his life in 2004. In 2006, he was elected to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. Through it all, he battled deteriorating health and eventually throat cancer, but nothing could keep him away from the ballpark. Nothing, that is, until yesterday evening. Joe Nuxhall succumbed to illness yesterday at the age of 79.
The Old Lefthander has rounded 3rd, and finally made it home. Good night, everybody.