He was the most competitive SOB I ever played with.
- Pete Rose
Long before Joe Nuxhall crafted a four-decade long broadcasting career that made him the most beloved personality in Reds history, he had crafted a pitching career that placed him among the very best portsiders to take the mound for the Cincinnati club, a career that earned him a place in the Reds Hall of Fame.
Born in Hamilton, OH, in 1928, Nuxhall's professional baseball career began in sensational fashion when he was signed to a professional contract in 1944 when he was only 15 years old. The World War II player shortage coupled with Nuxhall's advanced development resulted in him taking the mound for the Reds in a game against the Cardinals at Crosley Field on June 10, 1944. With the Reds trailing 13-0 in the ninth inning Reds manager Bill McKechnie called on Nuxhall to pitch. After retiring the first batter he faced, things unraveled quickly for young Joe as he managed to record only one more out amidst five walks, two hits a hit batsman and five earned runs. Rough though the outing was, it was nonetheless historic as Joe became the youngest player to ever appear in a Major League game.
Following his notable debut, Joe was dispatched to the Minor Leagues where he remained until finally returning to the Reds in 1952. Pitching primarily out of the bullpen for the next three seasons, Joe established himself as a capable and dependable Major League pitcher. Inserted into the starting rotation in 1955, Joe became a star, winning 17 games with a 3.47 ERA that ranked seventh in the National League and authoring a league-best five shutouts. His performance earned him a spot on the 1955 National League All-Star team for which he struck out five in 3 1/3 shutout innings as the NL defeated the American League 6-5 in 12 innings.
The 1956 season was a banner year for both Joe and the Reds as Cincinnati fielded its first winning team since 1944 and was a legitimate pennant contender for the first time since the World Championship season of 1940. Joe earned his second All-Star berth (he did not pitch in the game), leading the Reds in strikeouts and ERA for the second consecutive season. Always proud of his batting skills, Joe contributed two home runs to the Reds' then Major League-record tying club total of 221.
Joe slumped to a 10-10 record in 1957 and his ERA soared to 4.75. He rebounded the next season with 12 wins and a 3.79 ERA and once again led Reds pitchers in strikeouts. Over the next two seasons, Joe's performance declined and with it, his composure. Always plagued by a volatile temper, Joe's outbursts increased in direct proportion to his less than impressive pitching. Long a fan favorite, Joe became the target of merciless fan abuse, a situation that degraded to the point that Joe asked to be traded, a request that was granted in January of 1961 when the Reds dealt him to Kansas City.
Despite pitching well for the A's, he was released by the club after the 1961 season. He signed first with the Baltimore Orioles but was let go on the eve of the 1962 season. He hooked on with the Angels but was also cut loose by that club after a short stay. In June, he was re-signed by the Reds and after a short stint with Cincinnati's AAA club in San Diego, he returned to Reds near the end of the 1962 season, posting a 5-0 record with a stingy 2.45 ERA. In light of the balance of Joe's career, it is something of a cruel irony that the one season he spent away from Cincinnati was the only season the Reds made it to the postseason during the period of Joe's pitching career as the 1961 "Ragamuffin Reds" were the surprise of the National League, capturing the club's first pennant since 1940.
Joe's triumphant return to his hometown team came into full flower in 1963 as he won 15 games with a club best 2.61 ERA, two shutouts and 14 complete games. During his time away from Cincinnati, Joe had matured significantly. Gone were the temper tantrums and public displays of anger. Reds fans quickly embraced the "new" Joe and a love affair that would last for the next four decades took hold.
While he did was not able to repeat the tremendous success of 1963, Joe remained an effective pitcher for the next three seasons which made the turn of events in spring training of 1967 all the more surprising. Joe was pitching well that spring and had every reason to believe that his spot on the club was secure. The Reds felt differently and so it was that Reds General Manager Bob Howsam called Joe into his office and told him that his pitching career was over. But the somber news was accompanied by the promise of a new career path. Howsam offered Joe a broadcasting position in the Reds' radio booth as a replacement for Waite Hoyt who had retired at the end of the previous season. Joe had done some broadcasting over the years for Miami University's men's basketball team but had never ventured into radio broadcasting. In fact, he had barely considered the idea. After brief deliberation, Joe decided he had little to lose and accepted Howsam's proposal. It is assured that neither man could have imagined the impact of that meeting in 1967 on generations of Reds fans who elevated Joe to a status of respect and unconditional affection that is unprecedented in the franchise's history.
Induction to the Reds Hall of Fame in a special election in 1968 proved to be the capstone of Joe's pitching career. Today Joe still ranks in the top ten in franchise history in wins (ninth), games pitched (fourth), innings pitched (sixth ), strikeouts (third) and shutouts (tenth). And only the career numbers of Eppa Rixey outstrip Joe's in the ranks of left-handed pitchers who have plied their trade with the Reds.
Of course, to Reds fans, Joe Nuxhall will always represent so much more than excellence on the pitching mound. While it was this facet of his career that earned him a place in the Reds Hall of Fame, it was the man he was behind the microphone and in the community, a genuine neighbor and friend, that is his ultimate and most lasting legacy.