Sunday, February 22, 2004

Nuxhall fires it plateward: Youngest/oldest all in one


Cincinnati 101

Cliff Radel

Give the ball to the Old Lefthander one more time.

Before Joe Nuxhall rounds third and heads for home forever, the Cincinnati Reds should let him suit up for a game. Give the retiring radio man a hero's escort to the mound. He deserves it. He's a Reds legend.

Then, let him rare back and throw. One last pitch. For old time's sake. For the record books.

That way, the youngest guy to play the game will also be the oldest.

The heck with just letting him do a ceremonial first pitch.

This toss would be the real thing. During a game.

The Reds have just the game for it - Sept. 18. At 7:10 p.m. At home. Against the Cubs.

By then the Reds' season will be long gone. This team isn't bound for greatness. So, the fans could use a pleasant diversion.

Seeing this southpaw pitch on Sept. 18 would be a true pleasure. And quite appropriate. The game - tickets went on sale Saturday - honors Nuxhall's retirement. At season's end, he closes his 60-year association with the Reds, including the last 37 in the radio booth.

The Sept. 18 game dovetails with Nuxhall's historic debut. On June 10, 1944 - at age 15 years, 10 months and 11 days - he pitched two-thirds of an inning for the Reds and became history's youngest big-leaguer.

Fast-forward 60 years. Nuxhall turns 76 in July. If he makes one pitch on Sept. 18, he would be the oldest Major Leaguer by 17 years.

He's up to the challenge.

"I doubt I could throw a ball 60 feet today," said the Old Lefthander. "But Spring Training's going on. I have seven months to get in shape."

For now, Satchel Paige holds the oldest-player distinction. Officially, he was 59 when he last pitched for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965.

Paige could have been older. He fibbed a lot about his age. To find out exactly how old he was, you would have had to cut him in half and count the rings.

At age 76, Nuxhall would be free and clear to make one last pitch for the Reds. The timing of his retirement game, late in September, keeps him from being signed by another team. That way he won't wind up as a New York Yankee.

"Wouldn't want that," cracked Marty Brennaman, Nuxhall's Reds-on-radio partner.

"With his figure, those Yankee pinstripes would be very unflattering."

The last time a team tried to maintain a historical continuum like this, baseball shot it down.

Minnie Minoso planned to take a swing for the Chicago White Sox in 1990. He wanted to keep his string alive of appearing at the plate in every decade since the 1940s. But baseball's commissioner, Fay Vincent, said no. He invoked the Must maintain the "integrity" of the game rule.

Baseball would have trouble invoking that rule today. In 2004, the big-league game has precious little integrity.

Except for guys who have devoted their lives to baseball - guys like the Old Lefthander.

E-mail cradel@enquirer.com




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