Nuxhall holds distinct record

Nuxhall holds distinct record

CINCINNATI -- Not many record holders truly carry this distinction, but it's safe to say that Joe Nuxhall holds a Major League record that can never be broken.

Nuxhall was just 15 years, 10 months and 11 days old when he pitched for the Reds against the Cardinals on June 10, 1944, in front of about 3,500 fans at Crosley Field. He is the youngest player to ever appear in a big league game.

Major League rosters had been depleted at a time when players left to fight in World War II. According to Nuxhall's biography, Reds scouts drove up to his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, to scout his 34-year-old father Orville -- a hard-throwing right-hander.

They liked Orville enough, but it was the 14-year-old lefty named Joe Nuxhall that drew their attention. Eventually, after the junior high school year ended, his parents let their 6-foot-3, 195-pound kid sign to a contract that paid him $175 per month with a $500 bonus.

Nuxhall had sat the bench without seeing action, but when St. Louis had 13-0 lead in the ninth inning, the young left-hander was called into the game by manager Bill McKechnie.

"He must have called to me three times," Nuxhall said in his biography, "Joe: Rounding Third and Headed for Home." "I wasn't paying attention. I never thought they would put me in the game. I figured I would just sit there until they decided where they were going to send me. Tell ya the truth, I was shocked."

Given instructions to "just throw strikes" by his skipper, Nuxhall retired his first batter, issued a walk and then retired his third batter. After a second walk, he faced future Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who lined a hard single into right field. The Cardinals scored five runs, while Nuxhall was unable to notch the third out.

"All of a sudden, I couldn't throw a strike," Nuxhall said in the book. "Couldn't come close. Damndest thing. I guess I finally realized where I was, what I was doing. But, you know, three weeks before that, I was pitching to junior high school guys in Hamilton. My nerves just started getting to me."

Nuxhall went back to school and eventually the Minor Leagues. He spent parts of 15 of his 16 Major League seasons with Cincinnati and posted a lifetime record of 135-117 with a 3.90 ERA from 1944 and 1952-66. He was a two-time All-Star in 1955-56.

That fresh-faced kid that made history in 1944 also evolved into a generous veteran and team leader.

"He loved the kids," longtime clubhouse manager Bernie Stowe said on Friday. "If we had a kid up, he was the first guy to be over talking to him. If he was an outfielder or infielder, he'd still be the first one to talk with him."

Nuxhall transitioned into the broadcast booth and called Reds games on radio full-time from 1967-2004. Late Thursday, he lost a battle with lymphoma and passed away at Mercy Fairfield Hospital. His life and career were remembered fondly on Friday morning.

Chuck Harmon, the Reds' first African-American player, was a teammate with Nuxhall from 1954-56 and had nothing but fond memories.

"He never changed the whole time I knew him," Harmon said. "He was a regular person that got along with everybody. He always had a story or joke. He was always smiling. Whether it was as a player or announcer, he never knocked anybody. He had something good to say about everybody and you could believe everything he said.

"I'm glad we passed each others' way. It's a memory you never forget. You're proud to tell anybody about him and what kind of guy he is. If you're his friend, you're his friend for life. There are people you meet and the first time you meet them, you know they're great, because they make you feel that way."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.