A few weeks ago while driving home from work I had my radio tuned to WLW. The host was interviewing former WLW Sports Talk Show host Bob Trumpy.
For those of you who don’t know Bob Trumpy, he was an All-Pro tight end who played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968-77. After his playing days he had a broadcasting career that saw him host a weeknight sports talk show on WLW from 1980-89. He also worked for NBC calling Monday Night Football (on radio), two Super Bowls, PGA Tour golf, the Olympics and more.
When he hosted the popular sports talk show in Cincinnati he was obviously talented, but often came off as a gruff character who seemed rather rude to some of his callers.
So, when Mr. Trumpy showed up at the former Rocky Fork Golf Course in the 1980s for one of Linda Allen’s annual SATH Celebrity Golf Benefits, I was more than a little nervous as I slid into a seat across a table from him and asked if he’d mind answering a few questions.
He quickly put a young sports editor at ease when he responded with a genuine smile and told me to ask away.
I was not asking anything in particular that day, just visiting with some celebrities – and Linda had some really big celebrities at her golf events in those days – inquiring about their opinion on a variety of subjects.
Trumpy candidly answered every question I posed, but shocked me when I asked his opinion on the late Marge Schott, the majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds at the time. I do not remember exactly what I asked Trumpy and I do not remember his exact response. But his answer was quite negative and so pointed, in fact, that I asked him if he was sure I could quote what he just said. Again, I do not remember his exact answer, but it was something like, “You bet you can.”
I walked away a few minutes later feeling like I had a big scoop and with a completely different opinion of Mr. Trumpy.
I had the opportunity to talk to many celebrities during those years, mostly at Linda’s outings and a Griffey & Sons Golf Tournament that was held at Buckeye Hills near Greenfield a few times. Some of the ones I thought would be the most approachable turned out to be less than accommodating, and vice versa.
I could name names, but they all took time to travel to Highland County to play golf for good causes, so they get a pass.
But I will gladly tell you my all-time favorite – the late Joe Nuxhall.
Nuxhall was the youngest player ever to appear in a Major League Baseball at 15 years old in 1944. That was mostly due to a shortage of players during World War II, but he returned to the Majors in 1952, had a 16-year career, was a two-time All-Star, then announced Reds’ games from 1967 until his death in 2007.
I first met Joe Nuxhall at Riverfront Stadium sometime in the 1980s. It was Hillsboro Night at the Reds. I was on an elevator by myself, headed down to the field to photograph pregame activities, and feeling completely out of my comfort zone. Then the elevator stopped, the door opened, and in walked Joe Nuxhall. Probably sensing that I was feeling uneasy, Mr. Nuxhall shot me a wide grin, reached out his hand, and said, “What’s your name young man and where are you from?”
I told him my name and that I was from Hillsboro.
Mr. Nuxhall proceeded to tell that he knew Hillsboro well. In fact, he said, sometimes after a Reds games during his playing days he and some buddies would drive up to a Hillsboro tavern and play cards.
We talked until the elevator door opened, then as we stepped out onto the Reds’ field, he wished me well and we went our separate ways.
But suddenly I had a bit of confidence in my step, simply because a man took a few seconds to make me feel welcome.
I was feeling good I was walked around and took pictures of the goings on and several Reds. Then when it came time for the “Star Spangled Banner” and a Hillsboro woman strode to a microphone near home plate, I followed along so I could get some good pictures with the company’s little Pentax K1000. Without a zoom lens I had to get really close to the singer to get a good shot. And I did. The only thing was, after I snapped several pictures and realized that the national anthem was playing, it dawned on that I was on my knees about 20 feet away from the singer, and I had no idea what to do next.
These days I would quietly walk into the background and then stand at attention until the song was over. But at the time I felt that would look kind of disrespectful, so stood up, put my hand over my heart, and stood there pretty much center stage until the song over. Then I hightailed it back to the elevator.
Over the next few years I ran into Joe Nuxhall several times. A couple times in the Riverfront Stadium press box, at Linda’s SATH outings, and at the Griffey & Sons events where we once ate a steak and baked potato together as we chatted.
I’m not sure he ever remembered my name, but he seemed to always remember my face. And if asked, he’d give me as much of his time as I needed. I’m pretty sure though, that’s how he probably treated just about everyone.
For a guy who spent 63 years around Big League ball players, he could have been as pretentious as he wanted. But that wasn’t Joe Nuxhall. He was genuinely humble, kind and as gracious as any person I’ve met.
As I listened to Reds games on the radio in the years that followed, the talents of Marty Brennamen, Joe’s longtime radio partner, were obvious. But it was the enthusiasm in Joe’s voice and his stories that really drew me in.
I suppose that’s why I have a picture I took of Joe at Buckeye Hills hanging in my garage.
He didn’t have to be nice the first time I met him. He didn’t have to make the effort to put me at ease. But he did. The first time and every time.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.