The 1940s were a strange time for major league baseball. The decade started off strong with superhuman feats such as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams’ 56-game streak of 0.406 in a row, but baseball quickly felt the effects of World War II as many professional players volunteered or were drafted into the war effort – leaving MLB teams with thin rosters and no solid farming systems to provide relief.
This overall lack of talent not only led to lower overall numbers in the MLB, but also unusual events – not least of which was 15-year-old southpaw Joe Nuxhall who made his MLB debut for the Reds. June 10, 1944.
Yes, 15 years old. Even by the standards of the war effort, this is something that is puzzling.
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Nuxhall had just graduated from high school when he signed a contract with the Reds (in fact, his parents signed it for him), trading his paper route (yes, that’s right) for a job in a big league. To put this in perspective, think of any ninth grade boy you know, maybe not even going through puberty, and then imagine him playing professional baseball. Again, this shocks the mind.
And it basically happened by accident.
Because MLB teams lacked quality players, scouts noticed anyone with a hint of ability. This included Nuxhall’s father, Orville.
“My dad could throw hard. They were really looking for him, “Nuxhall told The Associated Press in 1994.” Almost by accident they found me.
Although he was only 15 years old, Nuxhall was tall and somewhat gangly at 6-3 and 190 pounds. But his fastball was around 85 mph, which was good enough to play in the war-exhausted version of the MLB.
While the Reds wanted him for that 1944 season – it was part of a PR move, part of a need – the plan wasn’t for him to be a mainstay of the squad, so he mostly turned sat in the shelter and watched the games. But in a blowout against the reigning NL champions Cardinals on June 10, his big moment arrived.
With his side down 13-0, young Nuxhall got a call from manager Bill McKechnie to warm up for the ninth inning.
Or, as The Sporting News wrote at the time, “McKechnie took the cover off Joe Nuxhall in the ninth.”
The nerves were intense.
“Probably two weeks before that I was throwing against seventh, eighth and ninth graders, 13 and 14 year olds,” Nuxhall told the AP. “All of a sudden I look up and there’s Stan Musial and love him. It was a scary situation.
Although Nuxhall managed to get the first batter out on a field, the already “scary” situation quickly turned into a nightmare. After a walk and a flyout to the next two batters, things fell apart.
Single, by Musial: “I can see the pitch to this day,” Knuxhall told TSN in 1994. “He’s up there like it’s a 1-0 game, and I’m a needle threader. . The first pitch I threw he hit a rocket in the right field for a hit. It was always interesting to me that he was so solid with such a score and a young boy with no idea what to do with it. the place where the hell he would throw the ball. “
At this point, knowing that the experiment / the publicity stunt / the dice roll had failed, McKechnie removed Nuxhall from the game. The teenager’s final line: 0.2 innings, two hits, five goals, five runs . His ERA: 67.00. The final score: Cardinals 18, Reds 0.
Bad numbers by MLB standards, of course. But it’s admittedly quite impressive that a 15-year-old could have recorded two strikeouts in an MLB game, affected by the war or not.
Yet Nuxhall’s first season ended there. He was soon back in the minors, where he would stay for almost seven years (he chose not to play in 1946) before making his comeback in the big leagues in 1952. This time, however, he was here to stay. .
Knuxhall spent 16 seasons in the greats, forming two all-star teams and finishing with a career-high 135-177, 3.90 ERA and 30.3 bWAR. So it turns out his talent was pretty good even for post-war MLB.
“One of the things that has always stuck in my head is what could have happened if I had three strikeouts with just one goal?” he said in the TSN interview in 1994. “I was 0-and-2 on the guy I walked on. Due to the time, the war, and their search for any talent. that they could find, if I had taken him out, would I have been on my way to (the miners) that Monday? That’s a question that will never be answered. “
After retiring as a player, Nuxhall began a long career as a beloved broadcaster for the Reds. It is a job he held until his death in 2007 at the age of 79.
Nuxhall was proud of both of his careers, and he was proud of his early days as well. He’s still the youngest debut in MLB history, and he’s unlikely to be broken. Current MLB rules do not allow anyone under the age of 17 to be on a Big League list. So the name of Nuxhall will likely stand on its own forever.
“It’s a record.… It’s nice to be able to talk about something like that,” he told TSN in 1994. “I’d rather it be five straight 20-win seasons or something like that. , but it’s not. But it’s still a good topic of conversation. “