A tribute to one of the most honest, non-pretentioius professionals baseball ever knew
|(Originally written 11/16/2007)
Joe Nuxhall was the youngest major league baseball player of all time. His pro career began on June 10, 1944 at age 15 years, 10 months 11 days, with the Cincinnati Reds. He was in the 9th grade. He had to ask permission from the school principal to go to the Opening Day baseball game. But he could pitch with the best of them, and he did.
After pitching a troublesome inning late in that first game came seven years in the minors, followed by 16 pro years on the mound. "Hamilton Joe" moved to the Reds' broadcast booth in 1967. Still, when there was batting practice, you found Joe on the mound. When they needed someone to hit balls to the fielders for practice, you found Joe at the plate. Yes, he had been one of those seemingly rare pitchers who was also a danger (to the oppostion) at the plate.
I don't remember his initial partner in the booth, but not long after the move he was paired with Al Michaels, who now broadcasts network sports. When Al moved to the network, Joe was partnered in 1974 with Marty Brenneman. The two would become household names to Reds fans over the ensuing 31 years, to Joe's retirement in 2004, after a 60-year career in baseball, which obviously included broadcasting the glory years of the Big Red Machine. Everyone knew them, often seeing them at the local Kroger store (for whom they paired up again in a series of fun loving commercials). Fans referred to them strictly by their first names. No one needed the rest. When anyone mentioned "Marty and Joe", everyone knew to whom they were referring.
Joe's involvement with civic activities, kids, you name it, was well known too. He definitely enjoyed giving back to the town that had stood by him through his 60-year career and beyond. He even led the Chicken Dance at Cincinnati's Oktoberfest this year.
“The Old Lefthander” died at 11:00 PM EST Thursday, 11/15/2007 at 79, following a bout with pneumonia which came after his latest round of chemo for lymphoma. He was to have undergone surgery on Friday, 11/16/2007 to receive a pacemaker.
Joe's trademark phrase for the end of every Reds radio broadcast was, "This is the Old Lefthander, rounding third and heading for home. Goodnight, everyone. " This past Thursday night Joe rounded those bases one last time, and truly headed Home.
I attended Joe's visitation. When i arrived, I marveled at the length of the waiting line, and it warmed my heart to see it. I knew my back would be killing me after standing that long, but I decided that it was something I had to do. When i finally had the chance to give my condolences to his family, his son Kim commented that the sheer number of people that had come to pay their respects to Joe had simply blown the family away; it warmed their hearts to see it, but they couldn't believe it at the same time. I said, "Kim, just remember one thing. The crowd you see here is but a fraction of those who have loved and supported Joe throughout his career with the Reds." He smiled warmly, thanked me, and i moved on. Seeing his smile, it warmed my heart to know that I had made that painful time more meaningful for Joe's family. I knew I just had to be there, but I had had no idea that one purpose for my presence was to ease the family's pain, even just a little. That felt good to me, too, and made the back pain I suffered the rest of that evening well worth dealing with.
Father, thank you for all the joy, laughter, tears, and especially the wonderful excitement that You brought us throughout Joe's years on the field and in the booth. Be with his family, friends, and his countless fans as we say goodbye to a Cincinnati sports icon. In Jesus' name, Amen.
As one Cincinnati official said today, "Joe was an example to today's generation of what a man of good character should be." A statue of Joe in his classic pitching stance welcomes fans to Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark. That, and his classic closing line, in lights along the top of the ballpark, greet all who come to see the team he loved being a part of for 60 years. Tonight, in Joe's memory, the ballpark will be dark, but the lights will shine forth on his statue, and his closing words will break the darkness with the brilliance of their light.
Rest in Peace, Joe
You will be sorely missed