On June 10th, 1944, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall pitched the 9th inning of a very one-sided loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Reds lost the game 18-0. Joe got two outs, but gave up 5 walks and two hits. He was pulled after a wild pitch. It would be his last pitch in the major leagues for 8 years. But Joe still had his whole big-league career in front of him. You see, Joe was only 15 years old when he threw that wild pitch in 1944, making him the youngest player ever to play in a major league game. Ever…
Joe returned to the Cincinnati Reds in 1952 and went on to pitch for another 15 seasons, winning 135 games. He then turned to broadcasting, becoming the Reds radio announcer from 1967 through 2004, and then their part-time announcer until his death in 2007.
135 wins will not get you into the Hall of Fame. But Joe forever will be known as the youngest player to play in a major league game…even if it was an 18-0 loss.
Unfortunately, the Red’s loss wasn’t the biggest setback of the day. What Joe and his teammates didn’t know at the time was what was happening in western France on June 10th, 1944, the very same day as Joe’s major league debut. You see, the only reason that Joe was in the major leagues at such a young age was because there was a shortage of players available for the team’s rosters. The Reds, just like every National League team, had to make do without most of the team’s starting lineup that had been called away to serve in the 2nd World War. The 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945 baseball seasons were greatly impacted by the call up of men between the ages of 18 to 41 years old, to fight in the war, leaving those that were younger and those that were older to compete and keep America distracted from those dark days in Europe and the Pacific.
That June day that Joe pitched was one of the saddest days in the long war. A whole village in the west of France, Oradour-sur-Glane, became the victim of the Nazi forces. Later, President Charles de Gaulle ordered the area be maintained as a permanent memorial and museum, even as a new village was built.
So, a poor outing by the Reds, and a bad inning by Joe Nuxhall, a 15 year-old major league pitcher, was not all that will be remembered about June 10th, 1944. Joe was not only too young to pitch in the majors; he was also too young to understand the gravity of what was happening in the rest of the world.
Joe got older. The war ended.
Joe’s name will live in the record books forever, as will that memorial in western France…to commemorate that day in 1944 when the youngest pitcher threw that wild pitch during a very dark day in the Great World War.