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Popo: The 'Old Lefthander' Joe Nuxhall still impacts the game

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Posted at 12:33 PM, Apr 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-18 13:45:46-04

Danny Hayden takes a walk around Hamilton from time to time. People will recognize him as Miami University's baseball coach and will stop him to talk -- often about Joe Nuxhall.

They all have a story. Just like Joe.

Hayden, University of Cincinnati coach Ty Neal, Xavier coach Scott Googins and Wright State coach Jeff Mercer gathered Monday to promote the Joe Nuxhall Baseball Classic, which will be played Tuesday and Wednesday at UC's Marge Schott Stadium. It didn't take them long to talk about the tournament's namesake.

Nuxhall was a big strapping Hamilton kid who became the youngest player ever in the major leagues at age 15. Those were the desperate war years. But it wasn't a one-shot deal when he faced the powerhouse Cardinals. Joe had the skills and the tenacity to make it back to the majors where he had a 16-year career, most of it with the Reds.

A Joe Nuxhall statue outside the front entrance at The Great American Ball Park. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Most fans around here aren't old enough to remember that. They know Joe as the longtime radio analyst for the Reds, most of those with Marty Brennaman. It was an odd coupling. Marty was slick and polished. Joe could be clumsy and rough. But it worked beautifully. He was real and believable. We knew he was going to botch some names and we got used to those line drives "to left-right field."

"He was like a god to me," Danny Hayden remembered of Nuxy. I know what he means. I remember when my wife and I first moved to Cincinnati. We lived at an apartment in Westwood and we'd walk a little yappy dog up the street every night. I found out that as I walked the dog, I could listen to the Reds radio broadcast without carrying a radio. Marty and Joe's play-by-play would blare out from every front porch, back deck and living room. It all just blended together.

Hayden remembered that too. But later when he was playing at Miami, he remembers Joe visiting the team and sitting with the players in the dugout.

"I felt like a little kid listening to him on the radio, except that I could reach out and touch him."

Googins and Neal remembered similar conversations, remarking how down-to-earth Nuxy appeared. He gave them "time" and that was memorable.

Joe came to Aurora, Indiana for Opening Day -- the Little League Opening Day. It was on a Saturday morning. He had broadcast a Friday night game and had another one on Saturday afternoon. But he made time in his schedule to drive to Indiana in the morning to ride in the parade, to shake hands with the kids and throw out the first ball.

That's the way Joe was. Just a regular guy who would shake your hand, share a story or enjoy a beer and brat with you. I think he was at every sports stag I ever attended and Joe always seemed to be having a good time.

His reach was beyond the park and remains so. His Character Education Fund is still going strong today with his son Kim at the helm. The Miracle League fields that bear his name in Fairfield allow the physically challenged to enjoy the game like he did.

More than anything else, Joe was a just a good friend to all. When I was a young reporter, I went to Dream Week (fantasy camp) in Tampa and Joe was my manager. Nobody else wanted to catch so I was elected. A couple of days after watching me retrieve passed balls, Joe proclaimed that I reminded him of Bill Dickey, the great Hall of Fame catcher from the Yankee teams of the '20s. So starting then, he would always address me as "Bill" or "Bill Dickey, how ya' doing."

One night, years later, I had a chance to take my wife and son to a Reds game at Riverfront Stadium and we were riding the elevator up to our section. Joe briefly stepped onto the elevator, saw me and said "Hey Bill, Bill Dickey's here tonight." He hopped off the elevator a short time later.

My son, who probably was about 5 or 6, blurted out, "He doesn't even know who you are."

No, Joe knew us all and we all knew and loved him. It's hard to believe that he's been gone for nearly a decade.

This week they'll play baseball at his tournament at UC. As Danny Hayden said, "The legend continues with Joe Nuxhall and it's as strong as it's ever been."