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I’m losing someone very near and dear to me this fall. He’s been a companion for 35 years, entertaining me, informing me, exasperating me, but always accompanying me. His absence will create a huge void in my life. I’m speaking, of course, of Joe Nuxhall.

I can still remember the first time I heard him. My younger brother Mark and I had flown from our childhood home in Nevada to spend the summer with relatives in Ironton. My Uncles Ralph and Tom drove to Cincinnati to pick us up, since air service between Reno and Ironton was sporadic at best. Those two never passed up a chance to catch a Reds’ game so we found ourselves tossing our luggage into the back of a Chrysler station wagon and heading directly from the airport to Crosley Field (that’s TWO ballparks ago, sports fans). It is one of my favorite memories.

We got to see the Reds play the San Francisco Giants in a double-header (that’s something baseball used to have back in pre-historic times, kids) and I got to see them beat Juan Marichal as well.

Driving to Ironton after the game, I heard this voice coming through the radio, hosting something called “Star of the Game.” At first, I thought it was a joke. You have to remember, I grew up in radio listening to my Dad broadcast, hanging around his station, sitting in with the other announcers as they did their shows. I was used to clear speech, crisp diction, voices that snapped at you through the airwaves.

The only “snap” this voice had was like the snap of a wet locker room towel on a teammate’s rear. He had a heavy drawl, almost seeming to slur a bit. He rambled, he fumbled, and paused so long I thought the car battery had died a couple of times. “Who is that?” I asked. Uncle Tom looked at me in the rear-view mirror and said: “THAT is Joe Nuxhall.”

He told me how Nux joined the Reds as a pitcher in 1944, at the tender young age of 15! He ended up with a pro record of 135 wins and 117 losses, and he hit 15 home runs as well. In 1966 he transitioned into the announcing booth.

During the course of that summer of 1969 I became a Reds fan. (Just trying living in Southern Ohio for longer than a month and see if it doesn’t happen to you.) When we finally moved back to Ironton later that fall, I was a full-blown Redlegs fanatic.

Economics prevented more than five or six trips to games in person. This was before the explosion of cable TV, so the radio was our lifeline to the Reds. I can’t tell you how many nights found me with my lunchbox-sized transistor radio hidden under my pillow so my mother wouldn’t know I was awake at two in the morning listening to a West Coast game.

When I first started listening, Joe was calling games with Al Michaels – whatever happened to THAT guy? After Al left, Marty Brennaman took his place at Nuxie’s side. To be brutally honest, Joe never really got much better as a baseball radio commentator, but maybe I got better as a baseball radio listener. I came to love the slow, deliberate cadence of his delivery, so laid back as to be almost coma-like. But when something big happened, and Joe got excited, you knew it. There are a lot of newer baseball announcers – you know, the guys that SHOUT ALL THE TIME!! – who could learn a lot from Nuxie.

From spring training games in March to post season games in October, Marty and Joe were my constant companions. When I fell out of a canoe and into Lake Vesuvius trying to show off for Nikki Waller...they were there. When my best pal Rick Mayne and I combined to lead the Roaring Rhinos to victory over our arch rivals Hanks Market in a thrilling Ironton Slow-Pitch Softball League game…they were there. When I drove home from an ill-advised camping trip with a screaming six-month-old at midnight…they were there. But after this season “they” won’t be there. Joe Nuxhall the “Old Left-Hander,” is retiring after this season.

I’ll still have Marty...and the new guy they’ve been breaking in to take over for Joe is pretty good, but he’s no Nuxie. He’s been part of my life, and my sons’ lives.

So, Joe, as you are rounding third and heading for home, I send along sincere thanks for being my companion for 35 years, and for being the kind of companion I shared with my boys.


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