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Remembering 'the old left-hander

Posted Friday, November 16, 2007, at 4:10 PM

As an Indiana kid and a baseball fan, I quickly became a Reds fan during the days of Pete Rose and the latter days of Johnny Bench's career. I remember making yearly trips to Busch Stadium in Indianapolis to see the yearly matchups between Cincinnati and their AAA team, the Indians.

It was there on the immaculately manicured field that I got to see my boyhood heroes up close.

On the radio, I got to hear the dulcet tones of Joe Nuxhall broadcasting the exploits of those same heroes over the airwaves. Alongside another of my favorite voices, Marty Brenneman, the duo was like a warm, comforting blanket to curl up with and listen to Reds' games.

On Thursday night, the sporting world lost one of its kindred spirits when Nuxhall, 'the old lefhander' as he came to be known, succumbed in his long battle with cancer.

I took the news like a jab to the stomach because, to me, Nuxhall seemed to rise above simply being a part of the Reds' organization, but to be baseball itself. He represented all that is good in the game and listening to him and Brenneman, helped fade the images of whining prima donna players and ridiculously bloated contracts and more recently the allegations of steroid abuse.

Nuxhall always reminded me of what I loved about baseball.

I can remember when I first read about Nuxhall as a player back when I was a little league baseball player at Belle Union. An avid reader, I chose a lot of sports books and I remember reading about Nuxhall and how he became the youngest player to ever appear in a major league game at the ripe old age of 15 years, 10 months, 11 days old.

Can you imagine that?

With World War II raging and major league rosters diluted, Nuxhall stepped to the mound against the rival St. Louis Cardinals with his Reds trailing 13-0.

As the story goes, Nuxhall was so nervous when manager Bill McKechnie called him to the bullpen to loosen up, that he tripped on the step and fell face first onto the turf in front of more than 3,000 fans.

He walked a batter before getting the next two outs and then looked to the on deck circle where he saw eventual Hall of Famer, Stan Musial waiting his chance.

Musial lined a single to center which seemed to shake the teenager who didn't get another out before heading to the minors where he spent the next eight years before returning to the big league club.

Nuxhall would eventually return to the majors where he spent 16 big-league seasons before retiring in 1966.

But it was the broadcast booth which made such a significant impact on me and so many others. I listened to the duo call Pete Rose's record-breaking hit to move past Ty Cobb and heard the pair exuberantly describe Tom Browning's perfect game years later. I reveled in the championship celebration they told me about when the Reds' won the World Series title in 1990.

And when Nuxhall was inducted into the Hall of Fame I felt like I was in Cooperstown when I heard Brenneman talk about his co-worker and friend being recognized for a fantastic career.

Anyone who has ever listened to Nuxhall's broadcasts know that he's far from the type of person who enjoys the spotlight, but you could tell how proud he was receive the Hall of Fame honor. Not because of the notoriety the award brought him, but because his peers felt that he had brought so many positives to the sport, which needs all it can get these days.

Though Nuxhall retired from full-time broadcasting in 2004, he continued to call some games despite a mild heart attack in 2001 and prior prostrate cancer surgery in 1992. The cancer made a return in February, but still he joined his friend Marty in the booth to talk about their golf games and their beloved Redlegs.

So on Friday afternoon, when I heard the news of Nuxhall's passing, I couldn't help but get a little misty eyed as a rush of memories flooded over me. It wasn't just Nuxhall's calling of baseball games, but I was reminded of days spent listening to the games with my Dad and how simple everything was back then.

I suddenly knew what Cubs fans felt when Harry Carey passed on.

Nuxhall was fond of closing games with the signoff, "This is the old left-hander heading for home."

On Thursday, the old left-hander indeed, finally came home.

God speed Joe.

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