Sunday, July 27, 2003

Nuxie not ready to be yanked

Old Left-hander isn't sure he'll want to give up the microphone

You might think he's never worked a day in his life. But you weren't in Milwaukee at 4 in the morning two weeks ago, when 75-year-old Joe Nuxhall finally got to his room at the Pfister Hotel, after flying half the night from Houston.

You might suggest the Old Left-hander calls games now the way a baby eats pudding. He gets it all over himself. The other night, after Joe described another hit as landing in "right-left center," he took time out to make fun of himself, thereby beating you to the punch.

"One of these days," Nuxie said on the air, "I hope I live long enough to get right and left center field straightened out."

It was typical Nuxhall: Gracious, self-deprecating and dead on. One of these days, he really should get them right. It's only been 60 years.

We're at a crossroads with the Old Left-hander. He has the rest of this year and 60 games next year. This is the product of the compromise deal he cut with the Reds after last season. Nuxhall wanted two years; the club offered one. They settled on one year-plus-60, representing the number of years Nuxhall has graced the game.

The deal sounded fair at the time. Joe was sounding old and disinterested on the air. But he was still Joe. Along with his Hall of Fame cohort, Marty Brennaman, he is one of the few reasons during the dog days to care about the lately lousy Reds. But the deal suggested a question then, and it suggests one now:

Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasters Marty Brenneman (left) and Joe Nuxhall.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
Should the 75-year-old Lefthander, as revered a figure as there is here, have the right to call his own shot?

Or were the Reds being kind to give him an extra 60 for his final rounding of third? It comes up now, because the inner tug-of-war has begun for Nuxhall, as it does for anyone who's close to retiring from a job he loves. Nuxhall is hinting that 60 might not be enough.

"It's up in the air," he said Thursday. "I've thought about it. Sixty games is a nice number, I guess. Whether we hang onto that or add to it, maybe that's something we'll talk about."

If Nuxhall decides he no longer likes the deal, then what?

It could get dicey if Joe feels he's being pushed out. That happened in Detroit, when Bo Schembechler assumed command of the Tigers and promptly told Ernie Harwell to grab his coat. Harwell left silently, allowing the fans to voice his displeasure for him. It wasn't long before Bo was out and Ernie was back in.

If Joe says no to 60, you'd likely have a scenario pitting him against CEO Carl Lindner. Lindner enjoys his status as Mister Cincinnati. How would his image fare in a showdown with Nuxhall, a man as popular here as Pete Rose?

"I think anybody who's close to retiring, once it starts approaching, you start thinking, do I really want to?" Nuxhall said. "Basically, that's where I am now."

"How much of that is your call?" I asked him.

"I can't answer that question. That's something I'd have to talk to John about," Nuxhall said, referring to Reds Chief Financial Officer John Allen.

It would be out of character for Nuxie to challenge the Reds. But not out of the question. "I wouldn't do that," he said. "I've committed to something. That would be unfair to the ballclub. "If they (agreed to more than 60 games), then we'd discuss it."

Meanwhile, Joe keeps calling them as he sees them and nobody else does. It's a tribute to his kindness and special grace that Joe's mistakes make him even more endearing. After 60 years, all Joe sounds like is summertime. When he goes, we'll all be a little colder.

"I always wanted to go to Germany," he said. All the things he has missed, hoofing into foreign hotels at 4 a.m. The College World Series. The Final Four. His grandchildren, living in Maine.

He wants to stay connected with the Reds, somehow: "After all these years, I'd hate like the devil to just walk away and say see you later." Whether Nuxhall jumps or is pushed remains to be seen. Everyone has two months and 60 games to figure it out.



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