November 15, 2007 was a rainy, cool, miserable day. It was a Thursday. The Reds season was over with Pete Mackanin as their manager. The Reds finished a woeful 72-90, 13 games behind the Division winning Chicago Cubs. Adam Dunn was Adam Dunn — 41 home runs, 165 strikeouts. Aaron Harang was their best pitcher, winning 16 games. But Homer Bailey had made his major league debut against the Indians that summer and second baseman Brandon Phillips had smacked 30 home runs and stole 32 bases.

I staggered out of bed to face the day. I started the computer to catch up on the news. And the news wasn’t good. Joe Nuxhall had passed away that night.

I scanned the news article. It mentioned the obvious — how Joe Nuxhall made his major league debut at the age of 15, his long baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds, his radio career with the Reds after he retired, his endless work for charities and finally, his long battle with cancer.

It was 6:30 in the morning. The rain splattered against the window. I looked at my uniform hanging up, waiting to be put on. I knew in two months I would be sent on a military deployment to Southwest Asia. There was much to do at work.

But instead, I thought about getting in my truck and making the five hour drive to Cincinnati from Springfield, Illinois …

It was June 1965, a Sunday morning. My Dad was taking us to St. Louis for a baseball game. We could only afford to go to two games a year, both in St. Louis. It was to be the first game I ever watched the Cincinnati Reds play baseball. It was the first time I would see in person Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson, who were my two favorite Reds. And the starting pitcher for the Reds that day was the ole left-hander himself, Joe Nuxhall.

The Reds and Joe won that day. Joe pitched six solid innings and Billy McCool went the final three. My family was impressed with the new Busch Stadium and the brand-new Gateway Arch that sat on the Mississippi riverfront. Me, I was impressed with Robby, Vada and Joe.

Dad was never a big baseball fan, unlike his three sons, who rooted for the Cardinals, Dodgers and Reds. But he would listen to WLW at night and particularly liked listening to Joe Nuxhall when Joe started his broadcasting career. Joe wasn’t spit and polish and smooth as a broadcaster. He had flaws but spoke plainly and connected to the fans. That was his strength. That’s why Dad listened to him.

Dad had his own heating and air conditioning business. He was quite a craftsman and honest to a fault. In his younger days, he rode a motorcycle and played a guitar but he settled down after getting married.

When Dad passed away in 2006, I heard countless stories of his generosity from his customers. How he would let them pay $10 a month on a bill. How he would come to their home in the middle of a freezing night to repair their furnace. How they liked to sit down with him after a job and have a cup of coffee.

As Mom lay dying in a nursing home 16 months to the day after Dad passed — the doctors diagnosed it in a medical term, but my brothers and I knew it was from a broken heart — a guy came up to me in the hallway and talked about the time Dad came to his house in sub zero weather years earlier and fixed their furnace and what a great guy he was.

And so it was in Springfield on November 15, 2007 I contemplated going to Cincinnati. For what, I wasn’t exactly sure. I thought about Joe and my Dad and how much they were alike. I thought about Joe pitching to Lou Brock and Curt Flood in 1965 at my first Reds game. I thought about the times I was able to meet Joe and talk to him in person. And I thought about Joe saying, “This is the old left-hander rounding third and heading for home.” after every broadcast.

I got in my truck, but went to work. That night, I had a few beers and thought about Joe Nuxhall and my Dad.

The next morning, I read about Reds fans who gathered at Joe’s statue at Great American Ballpark. They left mementos and flowers and were mourning in the steady cold rain that fell that day. I guess I wasn’t the only Reds fan who felt a need to go there that day. I would have wound up at the baseball park as well.

To this day when I listen to the Reds, I miss Joe. That’s nothing against the guys in the booth now. They’re fine. I just miss Joe. In a way, Joe was a part of the family. His voice was in our house. His voice was a constant, just as Reds baseball is to many of us. And, he was a good and decent man.

Just like my Dad.

34 Responses

  1. esbienenfeld

    This is a beautiful piece of writing. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Tom Gray

    My favorite Red to get autograph from in early 1960’s. Always nice to us kids.

  3. mtkal

    Well written. Thanks John. Nuxy was the best. I have so many great memories of growing up in the 70’s and listening to the Reds on the radio, and the star of the game show ending with the old left-hander rounding third and heading for home.

  4. redsfan06

    Joe was a pleasure to listen to. The sound of his voice was like coming home.

  5. muttonlettucetomato

    Great post, John. I had the pleasure of meeting Joe back in 1999 after a ball game through a friend, Eddie Taubensee. Joe was tugging on a ciggie and looked like a saddlebag with eyes, but he stopped what he was doing to extend a handshake and conversation. Being a huge fan of the ol’ lefthander, it was a real treat to meet a childhood hero and see that he was such a genuinely nice man. I asked Eddie afterward and he said that was exactly how Joe was. Super nice and a caring, giving person. I miss hearing him on the radio as well. Those were the days…

  6. Dayton_Servo

    My favorite memories of Joe were during those long summer twilights as a kid with my bedroom window open and a just the hint of a breeze blowing. Joe’s voice would be accompanied by the buzzing of cicadas and the steady drone of trains in the distance. Too hot to sleep but too tired to stay awake I would drift in and out; I’d catch the top of the third, then the bottom of the fifth, then maybe a snippet of the post-game show. I also remember being sick with pneumonia one year and my dad coming in to my room and laying on the floor listening to the game with me on my clock radio. I remember watching the ’90 World Series on TV with the volume off and 700 WLW on the radio since we always preferred listening to Joe. I never got to meet him in person, but I always hoped that he’d be just the kind of person that you all describe; kind, honest, and loving – just like my dad.

  7. Victor Vollhardt

    Mr Ring–As always –a great piece about Nuxhall—–even better about your father.

  8. ohiojimw

    Joe and my father were essentially contemporaries. After WW2 ended, Joe was among those who had his amateur status restored; and, he played high school and American Legion ball. My father played against Joe’s team and faced Joe’s pitching on at least one occasion (per his own report, Joe K’d him and that experience may have influenced my father’s decision to get on with his life instead after he made the cut at a Reds try out camp later).

    Now fast forward some 55-60 years. In the late summer/ early autumn of 2004, my father was in the final weeks of his life. Joe had just written a book and was doing a book tour of Reds Country promoting sales of the book. My mother got my wheelchair bound father to the local bookstore for Joe’s appearance and got him a number in the signing line. But alas, they put Joe on a temporary stage with no wheelchair ramp.

    When my father’s turn came, someone from the store started to take his book to hand up to Joe; but Joe would have none of it. He came down off the stage and spent several minutes with my father and then explained to the room they had played against each other as young men and made a self depreciating comment about how he thought my father was just being polite when he said his memory was that Joe had struck him out.

    That day turned out to be my father’s last time out of the house. I had always liked Joe anyway but his kindness and understanding that day made him even more special to me.

  9. SrRedFan

    Thanks, Mr. Ring, for sharing that- and a beautiful job it was!

    It triggered memories of mine, dating back to the mid to late 80’s (?), when Joe came to my home town of Huntington, WV. I think he was a rep for good old Burger Beer, and he would be appearing at the local VFW – for FREE! I determined that was too good to miss.

    Joe did not disappoint. He rolled out story after story of my Reds heroes. I stayed Til the last dog was hung, and beyond. I went to shake his hand, and my hand was swallowed up by his ( I’m 6′-3” and 250).

    I thanked him for his game-calls, and for telling it like it was. He laughed, and said that would never change.

    I believed him…

  10. TomatoTovotto

    If the rookie pitchers continue to at least keep the team in games, and the guys in the field can continue to show some life (and patience) at the plate (coupled with their skills in the field, minus Byrd), the season should at least be interesting, even if they end up under .500.

    • TomatoTovotto

      Sorry this was meant to be on the recap. Anyway, appreciate the article on Joe. I remember listening to Nuxhall on the way home from games when I was a kid (we would leave Riverfront after 7 or 8 and listen to the end on the ride home).

  11. Paul

    Excellent post, John. Thanks for sharing those memories of Joe and the Reds.

    I watched Tom Seaver’s ’78 no-hitter vs the Cardinals on YouTube the other day and it was great hearing Joe’s voice again.

  12. Kearnsie

    first time commenter — just excellent writing

  13. Larry

    How fortunate we have been having Joe for all those years,and Waite Hoyt before that

  14. Crypticphrasing

    I loved how Joe would cheer for the ball to go out (when I Red hit it well) off-mic, in the background, while Marty did the call.

    • mtkal

      Those were so great. “Get outa here!” God I loved that.

    • RiverCity Redleg

      Marty (foreground): It’s a looong fly ball to left…
      Joe (background): Get outa here… Get outa here!!!

      Just typing that still gives me goosebumps. Joe’s childlike enthusiasm for the game and especially for the Reds is what I appreciated most about him.

      • Steve Mancuso

        That was my favorite thing about Nuxhall, the way he cheered for the Reds behind the play-by-play call, especially on home runs. That’s how you knew from the radio how well hit the ball really was. When Joe started yelling that, it was time to get excited. When I’m at a game and see a well hit ball, I find myself doing the same thing.

      • Michael E

        There was a big to do here in Atlanta many years ago when the local TV package wanted the Braves announcers to be neutral. I could NOT for the life of me figure out why you would want home announcers being boringly neutral. Most fans figured it was to placate the relocated northerners (Atlanta is a melting pot of fans), but as a relocated Dayton’er, I found it offensive to dull-down the HOME broadcast of the home team. Sad. PC gone awry again.

  15. Misconcepcion

    Nicely done, my un-met friend. Have always enjoyed your posts. I’ve liked, loved and hated Marty over the past 51 years of fandom, but I’ve loved Joe every step of the way. He offered to buy me and my two Iowa buddies a beer when we met him in the hotel lounge while staying in St. Louis’ Chase Park Plaza Hotel in 1969. We’d never had a beer (I know…), so we passed, but he did sign my baseball.

  16. Mark Elliott

    http://www.blueash.com/images/Baseball_at_Crosley.jpg

    As the morning show host on WLLT – Lite 95 FM – back in the 80’s, I had the privilege of playing in the first game played at the new Crosley Field in Blue Ash. It was some sort of celebrity game and I had the chance to step to the plate with Joe on the mound. And I got wood on the ball… not a base hit, but a slow dribbler back to the pitcher. Joe had the decency of letting me get almost to first base before he threw me out, laughing the entire time. It is a great memory.

    A side note – the first thing I did when I got onto the field at Blue Ash is run backwards up the outfield terrace into the center field wall, pretending I was Vada Pinson.

    • lwblogger2

      The CRC over-30 team I was on played on that field a few times. It was a joy. Of course I never had to trek up that hill.

  17. lwblogger2

    I think of him every time I pick up my daughter in Hamilton, off of Joe Nuxhall Blvd.

    Lovely piece Mr. Ring. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  18. Michael E

    A good read and made me think of my youth…nothing heartwarming like Mr. Ring and family, but wanted to add to the here, here’s!

    I had a tough time getting a clear signal in Atlanta in my youth, 700 would clash with overpowered Cuban stations and if any thunderstorms were between 700 tower and my house, I’d hear the constant lightning crackle. We lived down at bottom of a hill (many rolling hills) which made it even tougher.

    All that said, I loved hearing Joe call the games. I guess they traded off play-by-play, because I remember Joe calling a good bit of action. I loved his lazy, raspy voice, it made it feel like a hot, lazy summer night, even if it wasn’t. Most off all, I liked that he would pause often…3, 5, 10 seconds of silence. You could hear some stadium background noise here and there, but sometimes I wondered if I lost the signal again. The Joe would calmly chime back in “The 2-0…ball outside” and more silence. I really miss that more than anything, that he didn’t over do talking (diarrhea of the mouth) like some today do…just let me hear the distant, faint call of a beer vendor, the sound of a bat cracking against a ball, the cheers, etc.

    Joe was far and away my favorite announce in ANY sport for any team I rooted for. I like Ernie Johnson (old man) and Pete Van Wieren of the Braves pretty good, but still loved Joe the best. I like Marty too, but Joe was the voice I locked on to during those fade in and fade outs of the WLW signal. Sigh.

    • Michael E

      I also like Joe Garagiola and Vin Scully when they worked together (and Vin and Joe when they didn’t were really good too) on Saturday game of the week or whatever it was…great voices for baseball and complemented each other perfectly (Scully the Nuxhall-like rasp and Joe G with the higher pitched and faster slang).