By Howard Wilkinson
Enquirer staff writer
Baseball friends, |
mom weigh in
Here's what some of the people who know him best have to say about Joe Nuxhall in Joe: Rounding Third and Heading for Home:
Marty Brennaman, Joe's broadcast partner for 31 seasons: "In a business that breeds egomaniacs, Joe Nuxhall is the rarest of the rare. I've never seen him be anything but nice to his fans, and their numbers are beyond comprehension."
Pete Rose, Joe's former teammate, on his fiercely competitive nature: "You think you are going to beat him. The hell you are! And he was like that until the very day he took off the uniform."
Bob Howsam, the Reds general manager who put Nuxhall in the radio booth: "There were times when I know Joe was just as popular, if not more so, than some of our great ballplayers. And to think when I first asked him about becoming a broadcaster, he didn't want to do it. He was mad at me. I think it worked out pretty well."
Naomi Nuxhall, Joe's mother, on his retirement from broadcasting: "He is a man of routine. This will be an awfully big change for him."
Joe: Rounding Third and Heading For Home
By Greg Hoard
Orange Frazer Press; $29.95; 304 pages
How could we not know all there is to know about Joe Nuxhall? We have seen him on the mound at Crosley Field, throwing that right leg into the air as his left arm whipped a fastball toward the plate. For 38 summers, we've listened to that slow, avuncular voice pour out of our radios.
He's been our uncle, our pal, our fellow Reds fan, hoisting a cold Hudy and hollering like the dickens to force a hard-hit ball up and out of the ol' ball orchard.
But in his new book, Joe: Rounding Third and Heading for Home, author Greg Hoard, the Channel 19 sports director and former Enquirer baseball writer, gives us glimpses of the Ol' Lefthander we have never seen before.
We all know the story of the 15-year-old athlete from Hamilton signed to a Reds contract in 1944, when the best players were in a different kind of uniform, fighting a World War II, and Major League Baseball was limping along with players either long in the tooth or too young to shave.
We all know of his only appearance that season, on June 10, 1944, before 3,500 fans at Crosley Field, where he was pummeled by Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals. "I guess I finally realized where I was and what I was doing," Nuxhall says in the book.
But in Joe, Hoard takes us to deeper places. He paints a portrait of a loving, Depression-era family. They see Joe's athletic talent as a ticket to a better life. That's especially true for his father, Orville, a factory worker whose own skill as a Hamilton Sunday League pitcher might have taken him to the big leagues had he not had a wife and five children to support.
He was the oldest
Joe's three younger brothers looked up to him, and all the Nuxhall brothers adored the youngest member of the family, sister Evelyn. When she died of pneumonia just days after Joe's father signed a major league contract for his 15-year-old son, the family was devastated. Her oldest brother has never forgotten her. "She would have been 62 this year," Nuxhall tells Hoard. "Still young by today's standards. I wonder what she might have done in her life."
And we see Joe, after his less than auspicious major league debut, being sent to the Birmingham Barons, the Reds farm club in Alabama, far from the close-knit family he loves so much.
Hoard takes us into the head of a lonely teen suddenly thrust among men in a strange place, trying to find himself as a pitcher. The loneliness drives Joe to make up a story about his mother being sick and asking permission to return home.
It took seven more seasons before Nuxhall made it to the majors, where he was a mainstay of the Reds pitching staff through the 1950s and much of the 1960s.
While the book is replete with stories from Joe's boyhood and minor league days, it races through his major-league career with little detail. We suspect we know why - Nuxhall is old school; what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.
The last two chapters deal with Nuxhall's 38 seasons in the Reds radio broadcast booth, the place where he landed after his fastball left him.
'An old married couple'
There, he was teamed up in 1974 with Marty Brennaman, the play-by-play man who shared the booth with Nuxhall for 31 seasons. They became, as Reds equipment manager Rick Stowe says in the book, "like an old married couple," inseparable friends who would finish each other's sentences.
Despite Nuxhall's occasional on-the-air flubs and mangling of names, Brennaman realized long ago, as Hoard has in his book, that the love in this city for Nuxhall is powerful.
"In all the years we have been together, I have never heard one person, not one, say anything negative about him," Brennaman writes in the book's foreword. "Think about that, and then ask yourself if there is anyone in public life you can say that about."
And, the more we know, the more we love him.
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