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, Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is the old left-hander rounding third and heading for home.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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.