Sunday, November 18, 2007

In the Dark With Nuxie

I heard the news while I was, ironically, driving away from the first home I ever knew: Joe Nuxhall was dead. I had to explain who he was to Josh The Pilot, who is from a different home.

He'd been broadcasting almost as long as I've been alive, which meant that for a fourth-grader who dreaded nothing more than the next morning at school, his gravelly voice was a friend in the dark hours when I was too lonely to sleep, especially after my sister moved all the way across the hall. Night games on the West Coast were most welcome; that way, he was sure to be there as I fell asleep at eleven-thirty, midnight, one AM.

When he first played the game, he was famous for being young-- he pitched for the Reds at the age of 15, and since then, every single player who takes the field in the major leagues has had at least a little more life experience. By the time he retired three years ago, he was mostly famous for being old. He'd stayed with the organization so long, through three stadiums and who knows how much bullpen trouble, that an entire generation couldn't conceive of baseball in Cincinnati without him.

Most comforting about Joe's life is that we feted him while he was alive; built him a statue, shook his hand at Bob Evan's, quoted his signoff line in great red letters on our new stadium and turned down the screaming modern klieg lights for a few nights to allow his words to quietly shadow the evening hours. He died knowing he'll live on.

"This is the Ol' Lefthander, rounding third and heading for home."

It's easy to roll our eyes at baseball these days--the overblown contracts, the marketing, the asterisks. And like the game here in the twenty-first century, Nuxhall was a stumbler. His vocabulary was limited and at the end the calls and strikes whistled through his dentures, but he was friendly and he was familiar and he was ours. And we'll miss him.

just up to bat at:


mike, brown-eyed handsome man said...

That pretty much sums up how Cubs fans feel about Harry Caray. Or, I guess, how Yankee fans feel about Phil Rizzuto, or Cardinal fans about Jack Buck, or . . .

Et cetera. There is a timeless quality to those old-hand broadcasters who got their starts on radio before baseball became a big-money TV sport. Pat Hughes, the current radio guy for the Cubs, is cut from the same cloth even though he's younger, and I like him far more than I like Len Kaspar, who does the TV broadcasts.

In a very real way, the old-timers are the last vestiges of the old era of baseball, where personalities came up with a team and stayed permanently. In an organization where players have almost unlimited power as free agents, it's refreshing to turn the game on and know that even if the entire roster is turned over year to year, the same voice will always be there to call it, win or lose.

My sincere condolences to the baseball fans of Cincinnati. Take it from someone who still to this day considers Harry Caray an icon: as long as you can still hear his voice, he will live on.

MEP said...

Thanks for a lovely tribute to a great man. I am proud to be from Fairfield, OH, longtime home of the old lefthander.

Anonymous said...

I was reading your article "how well do we know movie princes" on msn. I found it rather amusing, except for the part where you said Prince Humperdink of the Princess Bride has six fingers. In fact, Count Rugen is the six-fingered man.

ShannJ said...

Great remembrance MB. You will be missed Joe. It won't be the same without you.

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