Hamilton native Joe Nuxhall, who as a 15-year-old in 1944 made history by pitching for the Reds and later became a fixture in the Reds radio booth, died at 10:55 p.m. Thursday night at Mercy Hospital-Fairfield. He was 79.
One of the most beloved figures in Cincinnati’s rich baseball history, Nuxhall was admitted to Mercy Hospital-Fairfield on Monday for pneumonia, a low pulse rate and low white blood count. Thursday morning, doctors postponed surgery to insert a pacemaker because of Nuxhall’s low pulse, his son Kim Nuxhall said.
The Ol’ Left-hander, as he came to be known to scores of Reds fans, spent six decades with the team as a player and radio broadcaster until retiring after the 2004 season. Working under a personal services contract with the Reds, he broadcast selected games during the 2007 season.
Naturally, when some Reds fans heard the news of Nuxhall’s death, there was only one place they could go to show their grief and offer their thanks to a man who had done so much for them – Great American Ball Park, home of Nuxhall’s beloved Reds, “the ol’ ball orchard,’’ as Nuxhall used to call it.
Through the early morning hours, a steady stream of fans – young and old – pulled up to the curb in front of the ballpark and walked slowly to the statue in the center of Crosley Terrace – a statue of a 15-year-old Nuxhall, firing a pitch in his Major League debut.
Some left flowers; some left handwritten notes thanking the man for all he had meant to them. Others just stood and stared.
“It’s like losing an old friend,’’ said Roy Marksberry of Dayton, Ky., who pulled up in his pickup truck shortly before 9 a.m. to pay his respects. “I never met the man, but I feel like I know him. Like he’s family.”
Others left a Reds cap and a dozen roses. One left a baseball with the inscription: "Joe, rounded third and headed to heaven.''
Another fan deposited a single rose and placed it at the base of the statue. He attached a note that read: "Joe Nuxhall, Reds fans will forever be thankful for all the memories you left in our hearts for many years. Rest in Peace, Ol' Left-hander.''
"He’s one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met,” former Reds first baseman Sean Casey said in 2004. “He’s humble. He always thinks of others first. I know he was a great pitcher and he’s done a lot of other things. But I think everything else is second to him being a great human being."
During a major league playing career that began in 1944 and ended after the 1966 season, Nuxhall appeared in 526 games with the Reds, Kansas City Athletics and Los Angeles Angels.
At 15 years, 10 months and 11 days old, he made his major league debut with the Reds on June 10, 1944 and pitched two-thirds of an inning in an 18-0 loss against the Cardinals. Signed to help fill out the Reds’ roster during World War II, he remains the youngest player ever to appear in a Major League Baseball game in modern history.
Nuxhall returned to the Reds’ roster in 1952, was an All-Star during the 1955 and 1956 seasons, and remained with the team until being traded to Kansas City before the 1961 season.
Nuxhall pitched in 37 games with the Athletics that year. The Orioles signed him as a free agent and released him before the 1962 season. Nuxhall quickly signed with the Angels only to be released by Los Angeles after five relief appearances in 1962.
Nuxhall rejoined the Reds shortly thereafter and pitched in 146 games for Cincinnati before retiring at age 37 in 1966. In all, he compiled a 130-109 record and a 3.80 ERA in 484 games with the Reds. In 1968 he was elected to the team’s Hall of Fame.
At the urging of former Reds general manager Bob Howsam and Wiedemann Brewing -- then a sponsor of the Reds radio broadcasts -- Nuxhall moved to the broadcast booth alongside Claude Sullivan and Jim McIntyre in 1967.
From behind the microphone in the Reds radio booth, Nuxhall witnessed and then shared some of the most pivotal moments in team history with his listeners.
He first teamed with Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman for the 1974 season and the pair remained inseparable for 31 seasons on the Reds radio network.
“(Partners) Jim McIntyre, Al Michaels and Marty helped me a lot,” Nuxhall said in 2002. “I know they give me credit for helping them. But, brother, they helped me a lot. My English was pretty bad. I know it hasn’t improved a lot. But it has improved -- simply from working with those guys.”
The public grew to know, and treasure, Nuxhall over the airwaves.
In December 2003, before his final full season in the broadcast booth, and again in December 2006, Nuxhall was placed on the ballot for the Ford C. Frick Award. The National Baseball Hall of Fame gives the annual award to a broadcaster “for major contributions to the game of baseball.”
“Joe is baseball in Cincinnati,” former Reds manager Sparky Anderson once said. “For myself, personally, if he doesn’t go in the Hall of Fame, they shouldn’t have one.”
A 38-year run as one of the team’s primary radio announcers ended in October 2004, but Nuxhall had remained visible around the team and broadcast booth since then.
“I think the anticipation of semi-retirement is worse than the reality,” Phil Nuxhall, Joe’s eldest son, said in 2004. “I think he’s going to be fine.
“He’s starting to realize we can take a family trip for the first time since we were kids. We can do things. We can go to a show or something. I think when that sets in, he’s going to be fine.”
An Ohio General Assembly resolution proclaimed Aug. 18, 2006 as “Joe Nuxhall Day” across the state.
The longtime Fairfield resident was honored before the Reds’ game against the Pirates that evening at Great American Ball Park.
A change in the team’s ownership structure before the 2006 season meant a higher profile for Nuxhall. Reds chief executive officer Bob Castellini made tapping into the team’s tradition a priority, and as a result Nuxhall was extended a personal services contract and broadcast selected games last season.
He worked alongside Marty Brennaman and his son Thom on Opening Day and, later in the season, broadcast from the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. It was the 59th ballpark he had played in or broadcast a game, including each of the existing major league stadiums except the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Safeco Field in Seattle and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Outside the gates of Great American Ball Park, on the Crosley Terrace, Nuxhall is one of four “Crosley Field” era players immortalized with a bronze sculpture. The statue of Nuxhall was unveiled in July 2003.
“From the first day I walked on the field at spring training in Tampa, Joe was always there to help with whatever,” Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench said in 2004. “He just oozed Reds baseball.”
Nuxhall had battled cancer and heart problems for several years. In 1992, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and suffered a heart attack in December 2001. In 2003, he underwent a 3½-hour surgery to remove a cancerous lump on the side of his face near his ear.
In May 2006, Nuxhall was admitted to Mercy Hospital-Fairfield to receive treatment for a lump on his tonsil and pneumonia in both lungs. The lump was a recurrence of the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma first detected in September 2003.
He was released from the hospital after a seven-day stay and back at the ballpark soon after.
Nuxhall is survived by his wife of 60 years Donzetta, and two sons, Phil Nuxhall and Kim Nuxhall.
Enquirer staff writers Howard Wilkinson, John Kiesewetter, John Fay and Jennifer Baker contributed.