Today in Sports History: June 10th

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6/10/1944 - 15 year-old Nuxhall debuts with Reds

With many of baseball's biggest stars serving in World War II (such as Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, and Yogi Berra), the doors opened up for a plethora of rejects to make it to the majors. Pete Gray, the only one-armed player in sports history, found a spot on the St. Louis Browns. Paul Waner, Guy Bush, and Babe Herman came back after one year, seven years, and eight years of retirement. And Joe Nuxhall -- at 15 years, 10 months, and 11 days old -- made an appearance for the Cincinnati Reds.

Nuxhall got his break when a pair of scouts came searching for Joe's dad, Orville, who played amateur ball throughout Ohio. Orville, with five kids and a good job, turned down a professional contract. The scouts then switched their attention to Joe, who happened to be throwing a baseball in a nearby field. Nuxhall was large for his age (6'3'', 190 pounds) and could throw up to 85 MPH. He was invited to tryout at Crosley Field and impressed Reds manager Bill McKechnie enough to receive a contract, which he signed with his parents' permission.

Although Nuxhall was only a high school freshman, he still set his priorities straight. After signing the contract in February 1944, Joe traveled to every Reds home game on the weekends and weekday games when school was out. Nuxhall never got in the game however. He patiently waited on the bench for several months until the opportunity arose on June 10.

Cincinnati was trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 13-0 in the top of the ninth. With the game lost, McKechnie figured there was no harm in letting the ninth grade neophyte pitch an inning. Nuxhall was so excited at the order to warm up that he tripped on the front step of the dugout and fell flat on his face.

Nuxhall retired two of the first three batters he faced before "Stan the Man" walked to the plate. "Probably two weeks prior to that, I was pitching against seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old," Nuxhall said. "All of a sudden, I look up and there's Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation."

Musial slammed a hit to right field and the flood gates opened. Nuxhall was pulled after only two-thirds of an inning, allowing five runs, five walks, two hits, and a wild pitch. Two days later, he was on train down to the minor leagues.

By appearing in a game at age 15, Nuxhall became the youngest athlete to appear in a professional game in the 20th century. Only Fred Chapman, a 14 year-old who pitched five innings in a game in 1887, was younger.

Nuxhall was not dismayed by his awful debut. He made it back to the Reds eight years later and became one of the best left-handed pitchers the franchise ever had. After a lengthy 16-year career, Nuxhall entered the radio booth where he teamed with Marty Brennaman for nearly thirty years.

Nuxhall battled cancer in the latter years of his life and died in 2007 at the age 79.

Further reading:

Hamilton and Joe: A mutual love [Cincinnati.com]

50 years since Nuxhall's debut [The Sporting News]

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