Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1994
Middies' Lucas dominated final years of Hamilton-Middletown Gardens series
By Jim Blount
Jerry Lucas dominated the final years of the legendary 10-year Hamilton-Middletown high school basketball series at Cincinnati Gardens. Despite some lopsided results, contests in the 1956-58 Lucas era attracted three of the five largest crowds to view the 20-game series.
The Middies in those three seasons won 76 straight before losing, 63-62, to Columbus North in the state semifinal game in Columbus in 1958. During that streak, Coach Paul Walker's team won state titles in 1956 and 1957.
For Lucas, it was the start of a career which would take him to three-time All-American status and an NCAA championship at Ohio State, an Olympic championship, and rookie-of-the-year honors with the Cincinnati Royals in the first of his 11 seasons in the National Basketball Association.
As a high school sophomore, Lucas scored 32 points before a crowd of 8,578 in his first Gardens game Friday, Jan. 6, 1956. In the closest game in the series, the lead changed 20 times before the Middies won, 81-79 on a Lucas basket with 37 seconds to play. For the winners, Ron Dykes also had 20 and Jay Byrd 10. Gary "Spud" Hornsby's 30 points was the highest for a Big Blue player in the Gardens matchups. Ron Jacobs scored 12 and Gene Fugate 10 for Hamilton.
The Lucas-Hornsby shoot-out was renewed Friday, Feb. 10, as the Middies breezed, 87-70, before 13,167, a Gardens crowd then exceeded only by 13,521 when the Harlem Globetrotters played the College All-Stars there April 14, 1950.
Lucas and Hornsby had 30 and 29 points, respectively, for their teams. Other scoring leaders were Hamilton's Jacobs (15) and Fugate (12) and Middletown's Bob Cole (18), Jay Byrd (14) and Ron Dykes (12).
Lucas totaled 49 points in leading the unbeaten Middies to an easy 86-69 victory over once-beaten Hamilton in the Friday, Jan. 5, 1957, clash before 7,864 fans. Jay Byrd added 12 and Bob Reed 10 for the winners; Paul Riggins 21, Ralph Brunner 13, and Tony Blaine and Ed Pentecost 10 each for Hamilton.
The Middies made it 43 straight in beating Hamilton, 48-36, Friday, Feb. 22, as 8,635 saw the Big Blue play a deliberate game. Only six points were recorded in the second quarter, a period in which the Blue's Ralph Brunner dribbled the ball for two consecutive minutes. Hamilton trailed 33-30 before a fourth-period Middies spurt. Scoring leaders were Lucas (28) and Larry Emerick (10) for the Middies; and Jim Lacey and Paul Riggins, each with 10 for Hamilton.
The unbeaten rivals ranked 1-2 in the Ohio AP poll before the Friday, Jan. 17, 1958, game which attracted 13,649, highest in the 20-game series. The Middies won, 64-49, as the 6-10 Lucas scored 31 points while becoming the first Ohio high school player to score 2,000 points in a career. (He would finish his career with 2,460.) Tom Sizer netted 22 for the Middies while Tony Blaine scored 13, and Paul Riggins and Jim Lacey each 12 for Hamilton.
Lucas scored 34 in an 87-67 win Friday, Feb. 7, before 10,386 people. Larry Emerick had 18 and Benny Roberts 12 as the Middies won their 68th in a row. Hamilton leaders were Tony Blaine (17), Jim Lacey (14), Jerry Johnson (11) and Bruce Hunter (10). In six Gardens games, Lucas scored 204 points, a 34-point average.
Entering the Jan. 16, 1959, game, Hamilton owned an 8-1 record under first-year Coach Marv McCollum, who took over when Warren Scholler moved to Bowling Green State University as an assistant coach. Paul Walker's Middies were 8-3.
The Middies won, 58-54, before 3,958, the smallest Gardens crowd. Leading the winners were Ben Roberts 23, Jim Downing 12, and A. C. Mitchell 10. For HHS, Jerry McClellan was high with 22, while Ted Norris had 13.
Hamilton won the final Gardens game, 52-49, Friday, Feb. 20, 1959, as both teams finished the regular season with 14-4 records. The win ended a 10-game Middletown streak in series. Monte Shazier scored 14 for Hamilton and Ted Norris added 12 and Ben Roberts tallied 18 for the Middies before 4,357, the second smallest crowd in the series.
From the 1950 through the 1955 season, each school won six games at the Gardens. But the Middies, thanks to a 10-game win streak from February 1954 through January 1959, ended the series with a 13-7 advantage. A total of 165,770, an average of 8,289, witnessed the 20 games.
For the next 21 seasons, starting in 1959-60, Middletown would play four games each basketball season against Hamilton teams -- two each against Garfield and Taft -- in high school gyms.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 1994
Love built Champion's Hamilton mill; Valentines at heart of the company
By Jim Blount
Love built Champion's Hamilton mill, thanks to the increasing popularity of Valentine's Day a century ago. Peter G. Thomson, who founded the Champion Coated Paper Company in Hamilton 100 years ago, raised the capital to build the mill by selling his valentine business.
In 1871, the 20-year-old Thomson started a six-year stint with Robert Clarke, a Cincinnati publisher and bookseller. As a $3-a-week shipping clerk, Thomson learned paper, printing, publishing and business practices. In 1877, he relied on his experience and savings to open a bookstore. He also ventured into printing and publishing.
In November 1882 Thomson was ready to expand. "I borrowed the money and we bought some presses and type and hired some printers and commenced publishing toy books and nursery rhymes," he said. "They made an instant hit." Thomson operated in a leased building, formerly a Cincinnati carriage factory.
His business partner was his wife of seven years, Laura Gamble Thomson, a native of Louisville, Ky. "I had $10 when I was married," recalled Thomson, who said his wife "had a great gift at writing poetry, jingles and pretty little lines. And she could write the most delightful children's books and nursery tales."
Later they produced valentines. "My wife got the idea first," he said, "and she was a wonder in planning the designs and writing the lines."
Oct. 8, 1884, the Thomsons suffered a setback when a fire damaged their five presses and put 100 employees out of work. But the disaster didn't stop them. They found a new location and were back in business before Christmas.
The business prospered, especially the sale of valentines, which retailed five for a penny. Thomson said "by easy stages we worked up a big business in valentines and children's books, and my wife wrote several series that had a large sale."
Business was so good that Thomson became a prime competitor to a Brooklyn company, which was recognized as the largest producer of cards. Soon a price war erupted between the valentine rivals.
In 1887, according to the Cincinnati Times-Star, Thomson went to Brooklyn and called at the offices of McLaughlin & Company, offering to buy out the owners.
"I want to buy this establishment," Thomson is reputed to have said. "But this establishment is not for sale," he was told.
"But there must be some figure at which you will sell. Some figure up in the millions," Thomson replied. "No there isn't. We are not in the selling-out business. We are buying out, we are. We will buy you out," insisted a McLaughlin representative. "But I don't want to sell," said Thomson as the word battle continued.
Paraphrasing a previous Thomson statement, the McLaughlin negotiator said "you must have some price, up in the thousands," to which Thomson answered "Yes, I confess I have a price."
"Name it," he was challenged. "Not less than $100,000," said Thomson.
"We'll take it, provided you guarantee never to re-engage in this kind of business," demanded the Brooklyn businessman.
After accepting the offer, Thomson sought a way to invest the $100,000. His search brought him to Hamilton, first to his real estate ventures (Grand View and Prospect Hill subdivisions) on the west side of Hamilton, and in 1893 to incorporating the Champion Coated Paper Company.
Thomson used some of the money to acquire perpetual rights to patents for machines which would simultaneously coat both sides of a web of paper. The patents were owned by Charles H. Gage, president of the Champion Card and Paper Co. of Pepperell, Mass.
Thomson's original mill -- which started production April 15, 1894 -- was built west of Seven Mile Pike (now North B Street) on a site formerly occupied by Jacob C. Stillwaugh's brickyard.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 1994
World War II opened way for Joe Nuxhall to pitch in major leagues at age 15 in 1944
By Jim Blount
American interest in mid February 1944 -- the 27th month of a 45-month war -- focused on fighting at Anzio and Monte Cassino in Italy and Eniwetok Atoll and Truk Island in the Pacific and an 809-plane British raid on Berlin countered by Germany's "Little Blitz" on London.
On the homefront, the news shifted briefly away from World War II to baseball and Hamilton, Ohio, as Joseph Henry "Sonny" Nuxhall, a left-handed pitcher, signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds, receiving $500 to sign and $175 a month. The event attracted extra attention because Nuxhall was just 15 years old.
By writing his name on the document Friday, Feb. 18, 1944, the Wilson Jr. High School ninth grader became the youngest person to sign a major league baseball contract. Four month later, he became the youngest player to appear in a game.
In reporting Nuxhall's signing, the Journal-News said "for the last three years he has been a star in the Municipal League at North End and several times last season he worked out with the Reds. He also made a trip with them to St. Louis." During one Muni League season, Joe had formed a father-son team within his father, Orville "Ox" Nuxhall, sharing pitching and first base duties for the Cepluch Cafe team.
Joe's signing came the day after the 6-foot 3-inch, 195-pounder scored 20 points to lead Wilson to a 44-23 win over Middletown McKinley before a capacity crowd in the Wilson gym, earning the Knights the Miami Valley Junior High League championship.
Six days earlier he sank the winning basket with two seconds remaining as Coach Louis "Bud" DuBois' Wilson squad defeated Coach Bill Sharp's Roosevelt team 33-32, in a battle of Hamilton's two junior high schools. The game at Wilson, the Journal-News said, was "a thrill-a-second contest," including "a brilliant showing by Nuxhall who accounted for 24 points."
Joe Nuxhall -- a popular member of the Cincinnati Reds baseball broadcast team for 27 seasons -- got an early start on his professional pitching career because the war continued to drain talent from teams. According to one estimate, by spring training in 1944 -- the third season under war conditions -- more than 60 percent of the players on 1941 rosters were in the armed services.
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Millville native who was commissioner of baseball, had ordered teams in January 1943 to hold spring practice north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Cincinnati's training camp in 1944 was at Indiana University, Bloomington, as teams complied with a government request to practice close to home to conserve space, fuel, equipment and crews on the nation's strained railroad system.
In 1944, there were only eight teams in each of the two major leagues, all in the northeast quadrant of the nation. From east to west, the National League included the Boston Braves, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, the Reds, Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Competing in the American League were the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia A's, Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Browns. The 1944 World Series was an intra-city matchup with the Cardinals beating the Browns.
When the season opened, Nuxhall -- who had been born July 30, 1928, in Hamilton -- continued to attend Wilson, commuting by bus to Cincinnati for weekend and night home games until the school year ended.
Saturday, June 10, 1944, he became the youngest player to appear in a major league game when he pitched against the St. Louis Cardinals before 5,469 fans at Crosley Field. The Reds were behind, 13-0, when Manager Bill McKechnie inserted Nuxhall in the ninth inning. In two-thirds of an inning, he yielded five runs on two hits, five walks and a wild pitch. One of the hits was a single by Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial.
Then the Reds sent Nuxhall to Birmingham, Ala., to develop control and gain minor-league experience. In 1946 Nuxhall regained his amateur status and excelled in three sports as a senior at Hamilton High School -- baseball, football and basketball, earning all-state honors in latter two sports.
Nuxhall -- who has been a Fairfield resident for many years -- returned to the Reds in 1952 and played most of the next 15 seasons in the major leagues.
Next week's column will look at more details of Nuxhall's two careers in baseball.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1994
Comeback highlighted Nuxhall career; Cincinnati Reds announcer since 1967
By Jim Blount
Joe Nuxhall's place in baseball history would have been assured had he never again pitched in the major leagues after one game during World War II. He would have earned posterity as the answer to two baseball trivia questions: Who was the youngest person to sign a big-league contract? Who was the youngest player in a game?
Joseph Henry Nuxhall was a 15-year-old ninth grader at Wilson Jr. High School in Hamilton when he signed a Cincinnati contract Feb. 18, 1944.
Seven weeks before his 16th birthday, Nuxhall pitched in his first game. The lefthander gave up five runs on two hits, five walks and a wild pitch in two-thirds of an inning June 10, 1944 - six days after Allied forces had taken Rome and four days after the D-Day invasion of the Normandy beaches.
Nuxhall spent several seasons in the minor leagues before rejoining the Reds in 1952. He was a mainstay of the pitching staff until 196 when he was traded to Kansas City in the American League. One of his best seasons was 1955, when he had a 17-12 record, led the league with five shutouts and was outstanding in the All-Star Game.
His career appeared at an end in 1962 when he started the season in the minors with San Diego, then a Cincinnati farm team. But he compiled a 9-2 record there and was recalled by the Reds in July, finishing the season with five wins without a loss. His record was 15-8 in 1963 and 11-4 in 1965.
At age 38, in April 1967, before the opening game, "Hamilton Joe" -- as he was often called throughout his career -- announced his retirement and the start of a second baseball career as a Reds broadcaster.
Nuxhall had a 135-117 won-lost record in 16 years as a major league pitcher, including the 1961 at Kansas City. That year the Reds lost to the New York Yankees in a five-game World Series. "My only regret," he said when he retired, "is that I never got to play in a World Series."
Nuxhall was 130-109 with Cincinnati and ranks among the Reds' top 10 in several career pitching categories with 1,289 strikeouts in 2,171 innings in 484 games. His 13 career home runs is the most by any Reds pitcher.
In announcing his retirement, Nuxhall observed that "I've had three owners, four general managers, a dozen managers and been with, Lord knows, how many ball players in my Cincinnati years. It's been a great experience, but there comes a time when every player must realize his future is running a little short."
"I've given everything I could," Nuxhall added. His grit and determination, especially during his 1962-66 comeback years, won the Hamilton native the admiration of Reds executives, fans and writers.
"Joe Nuxhall not only has been a credit to the Cincinnati Reds during the many years he has served as an outstanding pitcher, but to all of baseball," said Bob Howsam, the last of Joe's four Cincinnati general managers, when Nuxhall left the mound and moved to the broadcast booth.
Lou Smith, Cincinnati Enquirer sports editor who covered the Reds throughout Nuxhall's career, said "Nux has a great sense of humor and always was extremely popular with his teammates." Si Burick, long-time sports editor of the Dayton Daily News, called Nuxhall "a big leaguer in every respect."
Nuxhall missed spring training in 1992 while recuperating from surgery for prostate cancer. But he was at the microphone for opening day and was accorded the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. "Seldom has the first-pitch honoree been someone held so dear by rank-and-file Cincinnati fans," noted the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The late Bill Moeller, sports editor of the Journal-News from Nuxhall's junior high days through his big league playing and broadcasting career, saw something that isn't reflected in Joe's pitching statistics and his longevity on radio.
"Our memories of Joe Nuxhall's playing career are enough to fill a book," Moeller wrote, "but his 'nice guy' attitude off the field stands out as much as his fine performances on the field. His kindness to children is legend," said Moeller, reflecting the feelings of those who have known and observed Nuxhall's 50 years in baseball.
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