New book unearths conversations with Reds legend Joe Nuxhall

Jeff Suess
Cincinnati Enquirer
Oct. 1, 2004: Joe Nuxhall (left) and Marty Brennaman in the WLW radio booth at the Great American Ball Park prior to the start of the Reds/Pirates game. Nuxhall is playing out his last homestand as a full-time Reds announcer and decades-old partner to Mary Brennaman.

Joe Nuxhall was a Cincinnati sports icon.

Popular as a Reds pitcher, beloved as a Reds broadcaster. His statue hurls a pitch outside Great American Ball Park. His catchphrase, “Rounding third and heading for home,” is emblazoned on the side of the stadium. Nuxhall is still ingrained in the city’s identity 14 years after his death.

But John Kiesewetter knows stories about Nuxhall that you haven’t heard before. Stories of Nuxhall’s playing days as well as his 37 years calling games for the Reds Radio Network on 700 WLW – heard from the man himself.

Kiesewetter followed the Old Lefthander for 29 years as the TV/radio columnist for The Enquirer and a lifetime as a fan.

“There’s a lot about Nux we don’t know,” said Kiesewetter, who now covers the media for 91.7 WVXU.

Cover for the book, “Joe Nuxhall: The Old Lefthander & Me – My Conversations with Joe Nuxhall About the Reds, Baseball & Broadcasting” by John Kiesewetter, former Enquirer TV/radio columnist. The cover is by Jim Borgman.

Kiesewetter dove into his boxes and boxes of audio cassettes to unearth his recorded interviews with Nuxhall dating back to the 1980s for his new book, “Joe Nuxhall: The Old Lefthander & Me – My Conversations with Joe Nuxhall About the Reds, Baseball & Broadcasting.”

Former Enquirer cartoonist Jim Borgman drew the cover of Kiesewetter recording one of Nux’s stories.

Great storyteller

“I used to love to go to hear Nux speak to groups … and he’d go on for an hour, hour and a half, without notes, just telling us great stories,” said Kiesewetter. “When his book came out, his biography with Greg Hoard, none of those great stories were in it. So I began collecting the recordings I had and subsequent interviews over a 20-year span.”

Every chance Kiesewetter had to interview Nuxhall over the years, he’d get him to tell two or three of those stories.

“I just thought that these great stories ought to be preserved, handed down and cherished. That was the impetus for the book,” Kiesewetter said.

Nuxhall knew how to tell a good tale. Ask anyone who listened to Nuxhall talk of his ill-fated debut at age 15 or dip into his bag of baseball memories.

APRIL 11, 1976: Reds' Mikemen Marty Brennaman, left, and Joe Nuxhall.

In the book’s foreword, Marty Brennaman, Nuxhall’s radio partner for 31 years, called him “one of the best storytellers of all time.”

And he was always his natural self, with an occasional mangling of the language and Nuxisms like “without a doubt,” “I’d guess you’d say” and “Get outta here!”

“Like I tell people, I’m not an English major,” Nuxhall told Kiesewetter in 1986. “All I want you to do is understand it. It might sound a little different, but as long as you understand it, then that’s what I’m concerned about.”

‘Let me tell you about Joe Nuxhall’

Kiesewetter also includes his own memories as a fan. Nuxhall was his favorite player. He put his baseball card in a gold frame and kept it on his dresser. He still has it.

“I grew up in Middletown as a Reds fan and I’m left-handed,” Kiesewetter said. “The big seminal year for me was when the Reds went to the World Series in ’61. I was eight. And the next year, the Reds had a winning record, but they were in like fourth place because the Dodgers and Giants were so good. In July, they brought up this pitcher named Joe Nuxhall, and he goes 5-0. And I thought he was some young stud … My dad said, ‘No, no, no. Let me tell you about Joe Nuxhall.’”

With many major leaguers off to war, the Cincinnati Reds signed 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall to pitch the 1944 season. He is pictured with manager Bill McKechnie.

As older Reds fans know, Nuxhall was the youngest person to ever play Major League Baseball. In 1944, many of the game’s top players were off fighting in World War II, so baseball teams got creative. Nuxhall was 15 years old, pitching at Wilson Junior High School in Hamilton, Ohio, and was recruited to pitch for the Reds.

Nuxhall’s debut was awful. On June 10, 1944, he came to the mound in the ninth inning of a blowout loss, then made it worse. He gave up five runs on five walks, two hits and a wild pitch in 2/3 of an inning.

He didn’t pitch in the majors again for seven years.

Then Nuxhall put together a pretty good 16-year career, almost entirely with the Reds. In 1967, he retired to the broadcast booth. In 1974, Brennaman was hired and the duo of Marty and Joe became Cincinnati legend.

Joe Nuxhall, Reds pitcher and longtime radio broadcaster, started the golf outing named for him to help fund high school scholarships in Butler County.

‘Nicest guy in the world’

The book includes tales of Nuxhall facing the great Stan Musial in his first inning, throwing a spitter to Willie Mays and pitching batting practice to the Big Red Machine.

There are also the pranks Brennaman pulled on “the nicest guy in the world with the shortest temper on Earth,” their Kroger commercials and David Letterman talking about listening to Nuxhall’s play-by-play in the 1970s.

Or the time the Reds got mad that Nuxhall told Sports Illustrated that he followed every game’s broadcast by eating a chunk of cheese and drinking Michelob – but Stroh’s Beer was their sponsor.

In 2006, Kiesewetter got Nuxhall to pick his own personal hall of fame of Reds players at each position. His picks had some surprises. His top choice for the outfield was George Foster, who was National League MVP in 1977 with 52 home runs.

“Good gracious, Foster might have hit 55 or 60 at Great American Ball Park,” Nuxhall said. “He would bang them off the scoreboard, I guarantee. I’d bet my life that he would.”

JULY 20, 2003: Broadcaster and former Reds great Joe Nuxhall celebrates after unveiling a statue of himself in Crosley Terrace at Great American Ball Park.

Kiesewetter creates a full portrait of the man, having talked extensively with Nuxhall’s sons, Kim and Phil, and his wife, Donzetta, including his charity work and his legacy.

Nuxhall considered himself a regular Joe and was genuinely surprised so many people cared about him.

Brennaman told Kiesewetter in 2015, “It never dawned on him that he evoked the kind of love that he did from people.”

“Joe Nuxhall: The Old Lefthander & Me” is available at tvkiese.com, Joseph-Beth Booksellers and the Reds Hall of Fame. One dollar from each book sold goes to the Nuxhall Foundation, which runs Miracle League Fields, a baseball facility for children and adults with disabilities.