The Ol’ Lefthander

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Joe Nuxhall

Joe Nuxhall made his major league debut in 1944 with the Cincinnati Reds … at the ripe old age of 15. He was the youngest player in major league history, the result of the player shortage due to the Second World War. Nuxhall allowed two hits and five walks in the ninth inning of an 18-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Left-hander Joe Nuxhall had the distinction of being the youngest player in history. He made his major league debut in 1944 at age 15.

After that lone appearance, Nuxhall spent the rest of that summer in the minors and returned to high school in the fall. He remained in the Reds farm system through 1951 and made his second “debut” in 1952, going 1-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 37 appearances.

Nuxhall gradually moved into the Reds’ starting rotation, winning 12 games in 1954 and 17 games in 1955, leading the National League with five shutouts that season. Nuxhall was 83-73 for the Reds in the 1950s, with a combined ERA of 3.92.

In 1960, Nuxhall was 1-8 with a 4.42 ERA and was traded to the Kansas City Athletics for John Briggs and John Tsitouris. He was 5-8 for the A’s in 1961 and was released after the season. He caught on with the Los Angeles Angels in 1962 and appeared in five games before being released again. He signed with the Reds and was 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA over the rest of the 1962 season.

In his second tour with the Reds, from 1962 through 1966, Nuhall was 46-28, including 15-8 with a 2.61 ERA in 1963. He retired after the 1966 season with a career record of 135-117 on a 3.90 ERA. He was an All-Star in 1955 and 1956.

 

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Defense Done Him In

 

Lights Out: Ken Johnson’s No-Hit Loss

When: April 23, 1964

Where:  Colt Stadium, Houston, Texas

Game Time: 1:56

Attendance: 5,426

The first no-hitter of the 1964 season was also the first no-hitter in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.

Ken Johnson’s no-hitter on April 23, 1964 was the first in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.

Ken Johnson’s no-hitter on April 23, 1964 was the first in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.

Houston starting pitcher Ken Johnson came into the game having won his first two starts of the young season. Johnson had gone 6-2 for the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 before he was selected by the Houston Colt .45s as their twenty-ninth pick in the 1961 expansion draft.

Johnson went 7-16 in Houston’s inaugural season, though he pitched better than his won-loss record indicated: 3.84 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 197 innings. He also pitched five complete games and one shutout.

In the 1964 season, Johnson would go 11-17 despite lowering his ERA to 2.65. He would pitch six complete games this season and, again, a single shutout.

It should have been two shutouts.

The Cincinnati starter was Joe Nuxhall, the left-hander who, in his major league debut on June 10, 1944, set a record as the game’s youngest player at age 15. Nuxhall had struggled through the early 1960s but had embarked on a major comeback season in 1963, when he went 15-8 with a 2.62 ERA. For 1964, he would finish the season at 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA, but he would record four shutouts in an injury-abbreviated campaign.

The first of those shutouts would be needed today.

The winner of three Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career, <a rel=

The winner of three Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career, Nellie Fox committed the error that allowed Pete Rose to score, allowing the Reds to beat the Colts 1-0 without getting a hit.

Both Johnson and Nuxhall pitched scoreless ball through the first eight innings. Through those eight innings, Nuxhall scattered five hits and struck out four Houston batters.

Johnson was simply overpowering … and unhittable. Through the first eight innings, he struck out nine Reds batters and walked only two. And after eight innings, the Reds’ line score read zeroes in hits as well as runs.

The shutout ended in the top of the ninth. Nuxhall grounded out to open the inning. Then Pete Rose reached first base on an error by Johnson. His throw into the dirt squirted by first baseman Pete Runnels, allowing Rose to move to second base. Rose went to third on a ground out by Chico Ruiz, and then scored when Houston second baseman Nellie Fox bobbled a ground ball off the bat of Vada Pinson. Pinson was safe at first and the Reds were ahead 1-0 without the benefit of a hit. Frank Robinson flied out to left field to end the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Nuxhall struck out leadoff hitter Eddie Kasko and induced Fox to ground out to short. Runnels’ hot grounder to third was mishandled by Ruiz, putting Runnels on first with the tying run. Bob Lillis went into the game to run for Runnels, but to no avail. Nuxhall struck out Johnny Weekly to end the inning and the game.

Ken Johnson was 11-17 for the Houston Colt .45s in 1964 … despite a 2.65 ERA.

Ken Johnson was 11-17 for the Houston Colt .45s in 1964 … despite a 2.65 ERA.

Never before had a major league pitcher thrown a complete game no-hitter and lost. But it was the kind of frustration that Ken Johnson would experience in different ways during the 1964 season as a talented pitcher on a second-year expansion team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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