Saturday, October 2, 2004
Pressures of pitching made Nuxhall who he is
First he harnessed his temper, then his ability, personality could shine through
By John Erardi
Enquirer staff writer
Being a leisure golfer, Joe Nuxhall will appreciate this. There is a saying about golf: It doesn't test character, it reveals it.
Well, there is another solitary pursuit in sport that does test character. And not only does it test character, it exposes it.
It is called pitching.
Pitching - which Nuxhall did for 15 big-league seasons, 14 of them with the Reds - exposes one's character in front of oneself, and in front of teammates.
Pride and arrogance, which are necessities, don't mesh well with failure, which is inevitable.
"There's a competitive temper, which is needed to have as a pitcher, and there's uncontrollable temper, which is going to detract from your performance," Nuxhall said.
"A guy who gets out of control, he's trying to throw it 102 miles an hour when normally he's throwing 92. That was me (1952-60). When I walked somebody that I shouldn't have, I'd go out of control. I'd have had more victories if I learned earlier what I learned later."
That Nuxhall was somehow able to channel his legendary temper into success on the mound is a tribute to his character traits of dogged determination, belief in himself and an openness to new ideas that extended his career five seasons longer than it might have lasted.
"In 1961, somebody - I think it was (Kansas City manager) Joe Gordon, because I'd been traded to KC that year - told me, 'If you walk a guy, tell yourself, He's not going to get any farther if I can help it.' "
Call it pitching in the present.
"(Reds managers) Birdie Tebbetts and Fred Hutchinson had those same talks with me (in 1954-58, and 1959-60, respectively), but it didn't sink in," Nuxhall said. "By '61, I was ready to listen. I'd had a miserable season in '60. If I didn't change, I was going to be out of baseball."
In pitching, if you control your pitches, you can still get dressed down by a good hitter, sometimes with a line drive 120 miles an hour at your already highly stressed coconut.
If you can't reason your way through this phenomenon - when every fiber of your being is telling you to react emotionally to it - then you will not overcome the adversity. And plenty of pitchers don't.
They're working the graveyard shift back home in Keokuk.
And why is this so important in a story about Nuxhall?
Because pitching helped make Nuxhall who he is today: humble, understanding, compassionate.
"Yes, I do think it made me a better person," Nuxhall said. "It helped me to understand people better. I tell kids all the time: Having an out-of-control temper will get you nowhere. You get mad at somebody and show it, what does it get you? Another enemy. I say, 'Be a friend of as many people as you can. If the person you're dealing with doesn't want that, go on down the road and make another friend.' "
Today and Sunday, Nuxhall will broadcast his last official Reds games. Nuxhall will be remembered for who he is, not who he was. Which is to forget, of course, that in 1955 he was one of the best pitchers in the National League, and for 11 seasons after that, one of the most dependable.
In 1955, Nuxhall led the Reds in victories (17) and ERA (3.47), led the league in shutouts (five) and was a star of the 1955 All-Star game. He was handed the ball for Opening Day '56, the bellcow of the staff of the team that remains one of the most popular in Reds history.
The '56 Reds had Ted Kluszewski, Wally Post, Gus Bell, rookie Frank Robinson and shortstop Roy McMillan, who, among all those sluggers (the '56 Reds tied the then-National League single-season record of 221 home runs) was named the team's MVP.
The '56 team drew 1 million fans to tiny Crosley Field and so congested West End streets that talks began to build the team a new ballpark elsewhere. "We almost won it. Just not quite enough pitching," Nuxhall said.
Even if you don't have even the foggiest recollection of Nuxhall's playing career, all you have to do is look at the accompanying charts of all-time Reds career pitching records to see how good he was. "Nuxie" is in the top five or 10 of almost all the meaningful categories. And he did it pitching in a four-man rotation, with occasional one-inning relief stints between starts.
Didn't you ever spend any time on the disabled list, Joe?
"Well, I did one time for some pulled muscles in my ribcage and another time for a pulled hamstring," Nuxhall said.
Those don't sound like pitching injuries, Joe.
"They weren't. The ribcage was from swinging the bat, the hamstring from running the
Nuxhall was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1968, less than a year after his playing career had ended, meaning he received no points for his few months of on-the-job training in the radio broadcast booth.
Shouldering the load
In baseball, the victory doesn't always go to the pitcher with the best stuff. It often goes to the pitcher who is best able to shoulder the inordinate responsibility of determining the outcome of the game. Not even quarterback is so solitary a position, because so many people around that QB have a hand in whether a play works.
So how did Nuxhall manage it? How did he get through it?
"When the bases were loaded and nobody was out, and I was on the mound late in the game with a one-run lead, I would remember something that Birdie (Tebbetts) used to say: 'Be in a hurry to win, but don't be in a hurry to lose,' " Nuxhall said. "I'd step off the mound, gather my thoughts and think about what I had to do. 'OK, let's see. If I throw this pitch and get a strikeout, and throw that pitch and get a double play, I'm out of it.' "
And that is how Nuxhall kept the other guys from rounding third and heading for home.
Reds pitching leaders since 1876
|1.|| 227|| Will White|
| 2.|| 179|| Eppa Rixey|
| 3.|| 163|| Tony Mullane|
| 4.|| 161||Paul Derringer|
| 5.|| 160|| Bucky Walters|
| 6.|| 153|| Dolf Luque|
| 7.|| 134|| Jim Maloney|
|8.|| 132|| Frank Dwyer|
| 9.|| 130|| JOE NUXHALL|
| 10.|| 127|| Noodles Hahn,
|1.|| 163|| Will White|
| 2.|| 152|| Dolf Luque|
| 3.|| 150|| Paul Derringer|
|4.|| 148|| Eppa Rixey|
| 5.|| 124|| Tony Mullane |
| 6.|| 116|| Johnny Vander Meer |
| 7.|| 110|| Pete Donohue|
| 8.|| 109|| JOE NUXHALL|
| 9.|| 107|| Bucky Walters |
| 10.|| 103|| Bob Ewing|
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