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​Let’s remember the time 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall pitched for the Reds in 1944

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​Let's remember the time 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall pitched for the Reds in 1944

The 1940s were an odd time in major league baseball. The decade started strong with such superhuman feats as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Ted Williams hitting .406, but baseball soon felt the effects of World War II as many pro players volunteered for or were drafted into the war effort — leaving MLB teams with thin rosters and without strong farm systems to provide relief. 

That overall lack of talent not only led to weaker overall numbers across MLB, but also to some unusual happenings — not the least of which was 15-year-old lefty Joe Nuxhall making his MLB debut for the Reds on June 10, 1944.

Yes, 15 years old. Even by war-effort standards, this is something that boggles the mind.

MORE: 10 single-season MLB feats we’ll never see again

Nuxhall was fresh out of junior high school when he signed a contract with the Reds (actually, his parents signed it for him), trading his paper route (yes, that’s true) for a job in a big league system. To put that in perspective, think about any random ninth-grade boy you know, perhaps not even through puberty, then picture him playing professional baseball. Again, it boggles the mind.

And it basically happened by accident.

Because MLB teams were short on quality players, scouts noticed anyone with any hint of ability. That included Nuxhall’s dad Orville.

“My dad could throw hard. They were really scouting him,” Nuxhall told The Associated Press in 1994. “Almost by accident, they found me.”

Though only 15, Nuxhall was tall and somewhat lanky at 6-3 and 190 pounds. But his fastball was around 85 mph, which was good enough to play in the war-depleted version of MLB.

Though the Reds wanted him for that 1944 season — it was part PR move, part need — the plan wasn’t for him to be a mainstay on the team, so he mostly sat in the dugout and watched the games. But during a blowout against the reigning NL champion Cardinals on June 10, his big moment came. 

With his team trailing 13-0, young Nuxhall got the call from manager Bill McKechnie to warm up for the ninth inning. 

Or, as The Sporting News wrote at the time, “McKechnie took the blanket off Joe Nuxhall in the ninth.”

The nerves were intense.

“Probably two weeks prior to that, I was pitching against seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old,” Nuxhall told the AP. “All of a sudden, I look up and there’s Stan Musial and the likes. It was a scary situation.”

Though Nuxhall managed to retire the first batter on a groundout, the already “scary” situation quickly turned into the stuff of nightmares. After a walk and a flyout to the next two batters, things unraveled.

Wild pitch

Walk

Single, by Musial: “I can see the pitch right up to this day,” Knuxhall told TSN in 1994. “He’s up there like it’s a 1-0 game, and I’m a needle-threader. The first pitch I threw, he hit a rocket to right field for a base hit. It was always interesting to me that he would be that solid in there with the score like that and a young kid out there not having any idea where in the hell he would throw the ball.”

Walk

Walk

Walk

Single

At that point, knowing that the experiment/publicity stunt/rolling of the dice had fizzled, McKechnie removed Nuxhall from the game. The teen’s final line: 0.2 innings, two hits, five walks, five runs. His ERA: 67.00. The final score: Cardinals 18, Reds 0.

Bad numbers by MLB standards, sure. But it’s admittedly somewhat impressive that a 15-year-old was able to record two outs in an MLB game, war-affected or not.

Still, Nuxhall’s debut season ended there. He was soon back in the minors, where he’d stay for the better part of seven years (he chose not to play in 1946) before making his return to the big leagues in 1952. This time, though, he was there to stay.

Knuxhall spent parts of 16 seasons in the bigs, making two All-Star teams and finishing with a career record of 135-177, a 3.90 ERA and 30.3 bWAR. So, it turns out, his talent was good enough even for post-war MLB.

“One of the things that’s always been in the back of my mind is, what might have happened had I gotten three outs with just the one walk?” he said in the 1994 TSN interview. “I was 0-and-2 on the guy I walked. Because of the times, the war and their looking for any talent they could find, if I had gotten him out, would I have been on my way to (the minors) that Monday? It’s a question that’ll never be answered.”

After retiring as a player, Nuxhall began a long career as a beloved broadcaster for the Reds. It’s a job he held until his death in 2007 at age 79.

Nuxhall was proud of both of his careers, and he was proud of his debut too. It’s still the youngest MLB debut in history, and it’s unlikely to be broken. MLB’s current rules don’t allow anyone younger than 17 to be on a big league roster. So Nuxhall’s name will probably stand alone forever.

“It’s a record. … It’s nice to be able to talk about something like that,” he told TSN in 1994. “I’d rather it be five straight 20-win seasons or something like that, but it isn’t. But it’s always a good conversation piece.”

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How long is Kyrie Irving out? Nets guard ruled out of Game 5; no timeline for return vs. Bucks

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How long is Kyrie Irving out? Nets guard ruled out of Game 5; no timeline for return vs. Bucks

Kyrie Irving’s return to the court is up in the air.

The Nets lost James Harden to a hamstring injury earlier in the series, and now Brooklyn may be without Irving for some time, with the star guard out for at least Tuesday’s Game 5 and perhaps beyond.

In the second quarter of Sunday’s Game 4, Irving landed awkwardly on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot, and he would remain on the floor for the next possession. Irving would walk off gingerly, but under his own power after the injury.

MORE: NBA playoff schedule 2021: Full bracket, dates, times, TV channels

The Nets would lose Irving for the remainder of the game — and they would lose the game itself, with the series vs. the Bucks evening at 2-2.

ESPN’s Rachel Nichols reported that Irving was spotted with crutches and a walking boot after the game.

Here’s what we know about Irving’s timeline to return to the court.

How long is Kyrie Irving out?

Further testing on Monday led to the Nets guard being ruled out for Tuesday’s Game 5 vs. the Bucks. Nets coach Steve Nash says he has “no idea” whether Irving will be able to return in the series.

After Game 4, Nets coach Steve Nash shared some positive news regarding the ankle injury: The x-rays on Irving’s ankle came back negative, meaning it’s likely some degree of sprain.

Depending on the severity of the sprain, Irving may miss the remainder of the series and beyond. Ankle sprains for NBA players tend to linger and can take two weeks or longer to fully heal.

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USWNT legend Carli Lloyd defying Father Time in quest for soccer Olympics gold at age 39

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USWNT legend Carli Lloyd defying Father Time in quest for soccer Olympics gold at age 39

Had the Tokyo Olympics been contested in 2020, as scheduled, Carli Lloyd would have been a whole year younger. She’d have turned 38 immediately in advance of the Games, rather than 39 – which, to be frank, still is uncommonly old for a professional soccer player. So maybe those extra 12 months really don’t mean so much.

Or maybe they’ve made Lloyd even better at the sport in which she already is a legend.

“I actually feel better,” she told Sporting News, after the U.S. Women’s National team completed a 4-0 friendly victory Sunday night over Jamaica. “And I don’t think that, if it was played in 2020, a number of different things wouldn’t have happened.

“My family wouldn’t have been a part of it. I wouldn’t have had knee surgery. I changed up my strength program, started working with a guy back home. I have a new trainer that I do ball work with. So I feel like I went from thinking that I’m continuing to get better to just like a whole ‘nother level. I’ve never been this fit, fast, explosive.”

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If it seems unlikely there could be another level beyond excellence for an athlete encountering middle age, you have not been paying attention to the sporting world in 2021. Tom Brady, already the owner of six Super Bowl rings, won his seventh as a 43-year-old quarterback. Golfer Phil Mickelson earned a sixth major title with a PGA Championship triumph at age 50. Helio Castroneves, essentially discarded by his race team as he entered his mid-40s, won a fourth Indianapolis 500 at age 46.

Lloyd may not appear to belong in this age group at first glance, but understand the nature of the sport and the constant, year-round grind tends to age soccer players more rapidly. Mia Hamm played her last game for the USWNT at 32. Abby Wambach was done at 35. Landon Donovan, the greatest USMNT player, was cut from the 2014 World Cup team at age 32. Zinedine Zidane ended his career with a World Cup triumph shortly after turning 34.

Lloyd will reach her 39th birthday July 16, and it’ll be a full celebration if that occurs in Japan while preparing to open the Games five days later against nemesis Sweden. She has won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals. She has earned 303 caps, third in world soccer history, and scored 125 international goals, which ranks sixth. Against Jamaica, she became the oldest player ever to score for the USWNT, and she bagged that goal 23 seconds into the match, as though it were essential to get it done before time caught up with her (video below).

It still might. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not postponed the Olympics into this summer, making the U.S. squad might have been a slightly less brutal challenge. Veteran striker Alex Morgan would have been only two months past the birth of her daughter, Charlie, and Lloyd had excelled in the position while Morgan was absent. Lynn Williams had only just returned to the national team, although she performed well and scored the game-winner in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying final against Canada. Promising Midge Purce had barely a cap to her name.

Unlike the World Cup, which allows teams to bring 23 players to what can become a seven-game tournament for the winner and runner-up, the Olympics only accommodates 18 players per team for the six games required to claim a gold medal. For his first tournament as USWNT head coach, Vlatko Andonovski will have to make some excruciating decisions because of the abundance of talented players. He must balance any desire to get essential international tournament experience for younger players with the understanding the primary goal is to field the team most likely to claim the gold medal.

“It is extremely difficult, but at the same time, the closer we get, I think, the easier it gets,” Andonovski told Sporting News. “It gets clearer with the analysis we’re able to do, and the evaluation. If we had 23, it was going to be difficult to cut players number 24, 25 and 26. It is always difficult.

“We have a very deep roster … regardless of what the number is, it will always be difficult.”

Perhaps because there was not a national team schedule to consume her, Lloyd took the opportunity to make some massive changes in her life during 2020. She parted ways with her longtime trainer, James Galanis, who had become a sort of personal “guru” for the player who scored the winning goals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and won the 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year award.

The work with Galanis had been a factor in Lloyd’s enduring rift with her family, which lasted more than a decade. Upon ending that affiliation, Lloyd called her parents and began working to repair that relationship.

She now hopes to win one last gold medal, insisting her desire to experience life beyond professional sports – not her advancing age – will end her career. The only concession to competing in such proximity to her 40th birthday has been the transition to center forward, a position that typically does not require covering as much ground as midfielder.

As is typical of Lloyd, though, she has worked ferociously to master the position, including film study of the game’s best strikers to learn their tricks and techniques. She had made the transition in advance of the USWNT’s triumph at the 2019 World Cup, appearing in all seven games and scoring three goals for coach Jill Ellis, but the arrival of Andonovski meant relearning how to play as a center forward.

“The way the No. 9 position was played was a bit different with Jill,” Lloyd said. “We didn’t high press, we didn’t do certain things. I feel like the way that Vlatko wants our team to play kind of just fits me. I love high pressing. I love putting the defenders and opponents under pressure. From the time that Vlatko came on board to now, I’ve literally just been a sponge trying to continuously get better and evolve my game.”

Lloyd is famous for the personal slights she seized upon for motivation, starting with her benching in advance of the 2012 Olympics that ended with her scoring twice in the gold-medal match. Before the 2019 World Cup, she bristled at the suggestion she had embraced the role of “super-sub”, emphasizing to SN she still was fighting for a starting spot every day.

In the early hours Monday, Lloyd made sure to tell The Philadelphia Inquirer’s excellent soccer writer, Jonathan Tannenwald, she was bothered to have him predict she would not make the Olympic roster, and that she was particularly annoyed because the Inquirer was essentially a hometown paper for someone who grew up 14 miles away in Delran, N.J. Tannenwald, though, only had suggested Lloyd was “on the bubble”, as they say, for selection.

“I don’t think if I’ll be able to answer directly about any player, not just Carli, any player on this team until I really have to,” Andonovski told Tannenwald. “I will say that I was happy with her performance: comes in, scores the goal, sets the pace for the team and does well overall, not just in this game but in the previous games and in training. So I think she’s in a really good place.”

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With 12-team playoff, college coaches on hot seat may have higher survival rate

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With 12-team playoff, college coaches on hot seat may have higher survival rate

A College Football Playoff subcommittee revealed a proposal for 12-team expansion last week, a move that became the leading topic of the offseason. 

Soon enough, we will be back to the hot-seat coaches. That chatter never goes away. 

While that expansion won’t impact the futures of head coaches for the next few seasons, the potential ripple effects on the coaching carousel will be intriguing. Just wait until the 12-team playoff and hot-seat talk mix. 

MORE: How a 12-team College Football Playoff works 

That will lead to some interesting questions about the definition of coaching success. 

Is it a trip to the 12-team CFP? Would winning a Playoff game save a coach’s job — similar to a Sweet 16 run in the NCAA tournament? Which coaches would have different temperatures now if the 12-team Playoff started in 2014? Will fewer coaches be fired as a result?

Those are legitimate questions when you consider past results. Here is a look at the schools that would have multiple CFP appearances if the 12-team format started in 2014:

If CFP had 12 teams since 2014 … 

SCHOOL PLAYOFF APP.
Ohio State 7
Alabama 6
Clemson 6
Oklahoma 6
Georgia 4
Notre Dame 4
Penn State 4
Florida 3
Florida State 3
Washington 3
Wisconsin 3
Baylor 2
LSU 2
Michigan 2
Michigan State 2
Oregon 2
TCU 2
UCF 2
USC 2

Now, here is how it would have changed the outlook on some programs and coaches in that time frame: 

Which programs would have benefitted with 12 teams?

Penn State, Georgia and TCU stand out.

The Nittany Lions have yet to make a Playoff appearance, and James Franklin is coming off a miserable 4-5 season in 2020. Franklin is on shakier ground than usual heading into 2021, but it would be a different story in a 12-team setup. 

Penn State would have made four at-large appearances from 2016-19. Imagine the impact that would have had on recruiting and how that would have helped make up ground with Ohio State — the only school that would have made the CFP all seven seasons. Over time, that would make the Big Ten East race more compelling than it is in the present day.  

Sound familiar, Georgia? The Bulldogs would have made the CFP each of the last four seasons, which is better than the one appearance Georgia has under Kirby Smart. Georgia has recruited at an elite level under Smart, but the program continues to chase its first national championship since 1980. For all the success, the Bulldogs are still operating in Alabama’s shadow. 

Perhaps in one of those seasons the Bulldogs would have made that run, but Smart’s success in Athens — and even Mark Richt before him — would be perceived with more appreciation.

Imagine what back-to-back Playoff appearances in 2014-15 would have done for Gary Patterson at TCU in the Big 12. Those misses stalled the program’s momentum. Patterson is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the FBS and has enjoyed steady success, but the Horned Frogs are 18-17 the last three seasons.

Which coaches would have cooler seats now?

Clay Helton and Jim Harbaugh have been on the hot seat the past few seasons. Those two coaches are talked about more than anybody else on any given offseason.

Helton would have led the Trojans to back-to-back CFP appearances in 2016-17 with Sam Darnold, and perhaps that would have helped the program avoid a two-year decline from 2018-19. Helton bounced back with a Pac-12 South championship in 2020, but USC might be further along on that road to true national championship contention.

Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State and has failed to break through to a Big Ten championship game since his arrival in 2015. Yet Michigan would have two CFP appearances under this setup, including that 2016 team that lost the double-overtime thriller to the Buckeyes on “The Spot.” The 2018 team also was Harbaugh’s last true Big Ten contender.

Perhaps those teams win a Playoff game or two. The Ohio State question still looms, but it isn’t the only talking point with Harbaugh. 

Which coaches might have stayed put? 

Chris Peterson retired after the 2019 season, but the Huskies would have been a three-time Playoff team in a 12-team setup from 2016-18. Would that have attracted the necessary talent for Peterson to make that national championship run?

Would Scott Frost still be at UCF? It’s worth asking knowing the Knights would have been a playoff team in 2017 and 2018. The Group of 5 inclusion might prompt more coaches to stay put (think Tom Herman at Houston). Frost is 12-20 the last three seasons at Nebraska.

Will there be fewer coaching changes?

Frost is a good launching point for that discussion. Consider that UCF coach Josh Heupel is at Tennessee now, and former Auburn coach Gus Malzhan is now at UCF. 

Auburn would have made the CFP only one time under this format, and Malzahn was formerly a coach that was on the hot seat every year like Harbaugh and Helton. Maybe that changes Malzahn’s status. Maybe it doesn’t. 

There were 17 coaching changes in the FBS this offseason. That was the first time in the CFP era that the number was under 20. Perhaps the 12-15 number becomes the norm in the 12-team era knowing that the definition of success slides with more includied in the Playoff.

Here is betting that will happen, and it will be a welcome change. 

Hot seat talk will never stop, but we’re looking forward to see how those conversations change. 

 

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