By Glen Sparks
The story goes that scouts from the Cincinnati Reds were interested in a 34-year-old, hard-throwing right-hander named Orville Nuxhall. They signed his teenage son instead.
World War II was raging, and major league rosters had been depleted. Bob Feller, Jerry Coleman and others were off fighting the Germans and the Japanese. Teams needed ballplayers. But, would they really want a kid not long out of junior high?
The scouts first watched Joe Nuxhall pitch in a semi-pro game in the fall of 1943. Joe was 14 years old. They wanted to sign him then, but, Joe asked, could they please just wait until the Hamilton (Ohio) High School basketball season was over. Deal. On this date in 1944, young Joe—15 now, already a strapping 6-foot-2– signed a contract with the Reds.
Warren Giles, the Reds’ general manager, put together a plan. He would add Joe to the team but not until school let out in June. Uncle Sam was serious, though; we were right in the middle of the greatest conflict in the history of mankind. President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were planning the invasion of France.
The Reds lost even more players to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in the spring of 1944. Giles had to fill his roster. He talked to the Hamilton High principal, who made the call. Joe Nuxhall could be in uniform on opening day.
Cincinnati Manager Bill McKechie waited a few months before getting Joe into a game. The pitcher made his debut on June 10, 1944, at Crosley Field, against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 15 years, 316 days old. And more than a bit nervous. The Reds trailed 13-0 in the ninth inning when McKethie gave the signal for Nuxhall.
Later, Nuxhall would say, “I was pitching against seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old… All of a sudden, I look up and there’s Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation.”
The Cardinals’ first batter, shortstop George Fallon, hit into a groundout. Then, things unraveled. Joe gave up five walks, two hits and five runs before McKechie pulled the hook. Nuxhall spent the rest of the season in the minors.
But, the story gets better. Nuxhall worked his way back to the big leagues in 1952 at age 23. He pitched for 16 years, mostly with the Reds, compiling a 135-117 won-loss mark and a 3.90 ERA (102 ERA+). The Ol’ Lefthander, as they eventually called him, made a couple of All-Star teams and led the National League in shutouts with five in 1955.
Following his playing days, Nuxhall entered the broadcast booth. He was well-loved in the Cincinnati community until his death in 2007 at age 79. His long-time broadcast partner Marty Brennaman said, “Everybody had wonderful things to say about him. That was the essence of Joe Nuxhall.”