Who Was the Youngest Major League Baseball Player?

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A Brief History

On June 10, 1944, 15 year old Joe Nuxhall made his first appearance as a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, facing a fearsome lineup of St. Louis Cardinals that were leading the Reds by the commanding score of 13 to nothing at the start of the ninth inning.  The Cardinals were the team that would go on to win the World Series that year.  The nervous teen managed to get the first batter he faced to ground out, but the rest of the inning did not go as well.  With World War II in full fury, able bodied young men were either drafted for military duty or felt compelled to enlist in the service, leaving the major league baseball teams to scramble for players.  Players too young or too old for military service were recruited to fill out baseball rosters.

Digging Deeper

Nuxhall, who only weeks previously had been facing junior high school aged batters, only completed 2/3 of the inning, hurling a matchup that amounted to a boy versus men resulting in five walks, two hits, one wild pitch and five runs.  (The pitcher that finished the inning, getting the final out, was Jake Eisenhart, a baseball footnote that never pitched in the major leagues again.)

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall in a 1957 issue of Baseball Digest.

In spite of his rocky first outing, Nuxhall would not give up on his baseball career, though he returned to high school in order to finish his education.  Working his way back through the minor leagues, Joe made his return to the major leagues in 1952, at the age of 23.  His best major league season was 1955, when he won 17 games against 12 losses and led the league in shutouts with 5.  Joe had a long and highly successful major league baseball career, playing 16 seasons, 15 of them with the Reds.  His lifetime record of 135 wins against 117 losses and an ERA of 3.90 is something to be proud of.  After ending his career as a player in 1966, Nuxhall went on to another baseball career, this time as a broadcaster of Red’s games, a second career that lasted until his death in 2007.  The last few years of his broadcast career were part-time, with guest appearances.  During his successful and respected career as a broadcaster, Nuxhall also would sometimes pitch batting practice before games for the Reds.

As a team icon and Cincinnati institution, Joe Nuxhall was honored by his image being one of the 5 statues that adorn the entrance to the current Reds stadium, Great American Ball Park, which was opened in 2003.  Joe also established a charitable organization for kids, called the Joe Nuxhall Character Education Fund, and in 2004 a book about Joe was published, titled after his signature sign-off line, Joe: Rounding Third & Heading for Home.

The bronze statues of Reds players by Tom Tsuchiya at Great American Ball Park, depicting Joe Nuxhall, Frank Robinson, Ernie Lombardi and Ted Kluszewski (not shown).  Photograph by NTT72USA.

The discussion of who exactly was the youngest ever major league baseball player is a little muddied by spotty record keeping in the pre-20th Century era of baseball.  A couple of contenders for the title of youngest major leaguer have been mostly disproved, leaving Joe Nuxhall with the most creditable claim to the title.  Not only did this popular player and broadcaster make his debut at an incredibly young age, he was in professional baseball continuously from 1944 to his death in 2007, with the exception of 1946 when he was finishing high school and took the year off from professional baseball.  Nuxhall spent his entire baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds, except for parts of 1961 and 1962 when he played for the Kansas City A’s and Los Angeles Angels, and 1946 when he “retired” to finish high school.

Joe Nuxhall is remembered in Cincinnati as a wonderful addition to the team and community and is one of the great characters of major league baseball.

Crosley Field, the home field of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds from 1912 through June 24, 1970, on August 16, 1969 during its final full season. Photograph by Blake Bolinger from Central NJ, United States.

Question for Students (and others): Who is your favorite all-time major league baseball player?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Hoard, Greg. Joe: Rounding Third & Heading for Home.  Orange Frazer Press, 2004.

The Cincinnati Enquirer. Joe Nuxhall:the Life, Legacy and Words of a Cincinnati Icon. Pediment Publishing, 2008.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by NTT72USA of the bronze statues of Reds players by Tom Tsuchiya at Great American Ball Park, depicting Joe Nuxhall, Frank Robinson, Ernie Lombardi and Ted Kluszewski (not shown), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.