Sports Vault: It's been 10 years since the Ol' Left-hander left us, but to Reds fans, Nuxy lives on

Joe Nuxhall 'was good people'

CINCINNATI -- Joe Nuxhall was a lot of things.

The Ol' Left-hander. Cincinnati sports icon. The youngest player ever in the big leagues. Hamilton, Ohio's favorite son. Radio legend. And Reds Hall of Famer.

But, to me, and everyone who spent a lot of time around the club in Nuxhall's 63-year relationship with the Reds, he was just "Nuxy."

It's been 10 years since Nuxy died. 

 

I covered the Reds home-and-road for Nuxy's last six years with the team. When I left the beat, people asked me what I remembered most. The 2,000-some games kind of blend together. What I remember, though, are the people. 

And Nuxy was good people. 

I can remember when we got word that he had died. Someone on the Metro Desk called my editor, who called me. It was early morning. Nuxy had been ill for some time and his death was not unexpected. 

But when the news came, I sat down to write it and cried. That had never happened before, and it hasn't happened since. But Nuxy touched me and a lot of people around him greatly. 

I grew up in Cincinnati, so I had listened to him for years. When I finally met him, it was stunning that a guy so well-known could be so down-to-earth. He was funny and approachable and the exact opposite of full of himself. He was like everyone's favorite uncle. 

He had a temper and he blew at times, and then he'd laugh about his outburst a little later. 

 

My favorite times with Nuxy were during spring training in Sarasota, Florida. I loved sitting in the dugout before the games and chatting him up about pitching. He knew his stuff -- although he admittedly hoped guys would be better than they turned out.  He was a basketball fan and a Miami University fan as well. We talked a lot of RedHawks basketball. 

But mostly we talked baseball.

Joe Nuxhall at the unveiling of his statue in front of Great American Ball Park.

When the Reds finally put together a good pitching staff, I always thought: Too bad Nuxy's not around to see this. He would have loved Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake.

Nuxy's body was beat up from years of playing by the time I got to know him. But he was a great athlete in his day. He hit 15 home runs in his career. After he left the Reds, he was Kansas City's first left-handed pinch-hitting option. He hit .292 in 1961.

A few years into my tenure as the Reds beat writer, I started doing the second inning with Marty Brennaman. It was a pass into one of the great inner sanctums of Cincinnati sports history: Marty and Joe's booth.  

I was more than a little nervous the first time I took the stool between Marty and Joe. Marty went into an elaborate thing, as is his wont: "I've got you now, son. I'm going to light you up. You better have your A game," he said, or words to that effect.

The statue of Joe Nuxhall at Great American Ball Park became a shrine honoring the Ol' Left-hander after he died in 2007.

Right before we went live, Nuxy looked over and gave we a wink to reassure me. I knew Marty was kidding, but the gesture by Nuxy meant a lot. 

The time in the booth was the highlight of many days. Marty and Joe were polar opposites in a lot of ways. Marty, a friend of mine would say, was the poofy-haired fancy boy;  Nuxy was the sparsely haired good old boy. But somehow it worked.

I got to see the two work together. Marty, of course, is as polished a broadcaster as you'll find. Nuxy wasn't. But Nuxy gave Marty just what he needed. He'd correct him at times, always wordlessly. And when something odd happened on the field, Nuxy could instantly explain it. 

Marty often says they were like an old married couple. And they were.

Someone was doing a profile of the pair once, and photographer Michael E. Keating was dispatched to the booth. But Michael didn't want the cliched shot of them overlooking the field. He asked for a little more. So Marty reached over and kissed Nuxy on the cheek.

An iconic photo of an iconic duo.

Former Reds pitcher and announcer Joe Nuxhall, the youngest player to play in the Major Leagues, died in 2007.

It doesn't seem like it's been 10 years since Nuxy left us in some ways. In others, it seems like 20 years.

Nuxy lives on, of course, in the memories of Reds fans everywhere. Joe Nuxhall Miracle Fields, his foundation run by his son Kim, continues to do good work around the community. 

When Nuxy did his last broadcast as Marty's full-time partner in '04, he said: "What a great time we had," and then he choked up. Nuxy could cry at the drop of a hat. That day, a lot of listeners cried with him. 

Because of what a great time they gave us.

Joe Nuxhall's radio catchphrase, "This is the Ol' Left-hander, rounding third and heading for home," adorns the Great American Ball Park facade.

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

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