MLB Pitchers: Youngest of the Youngest

Thanks to a link-alert from dear Shirley Virdon yesterday, I was reminded of the role that World War II played in bringing the youngest pitchers to win and play in the big leagues into the box scores during the last great global conflict. Stating the most obvious factor, the shortage of manpower for homeland baseball league play was critical. Older players with lesser abilities and  too much experience were getting to play MLB ball due to the scarcity of talent, as were younger kids with glimpses of talent and zero professional time on their resumes.

Youngest Pitcher to Appear in an MLB Game … Joe Nuxhall

Joe Nuxhall Youngest Pitcher to Appear in an MLB Game June 10, 1944

Joe Nuxhall, Age 15
Youngest Pitcher to Appear in an MLB Game
June 10, 1944

As is most commonly misunderstood, Joe Nuxhall of the Cincinnati Reds was not the youngest player in MLB history to win a big league game. The 15-year old Nuxhall was only the youngest pitcher to actually perform in a major league contest. It all happened  on June 10, 1944 in the top of the 9th inning of a game at Crosley Field, a game in which the hometown Reds already trailed 13-0 and needed an arm to hopefully get them through to the end at the least cost to tired arms and future games. The ball passed to 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall (DOB: 07/30/1928) – who was still several weeks shy of his 16th birthday when he got the call.

Was it too much for the kid?

“I was pitching against seventh, eighth and ninth-graders, kids 13 and 14 years old… All of a sudden, I look up and there’s Stan Musial and the likes. It was a very scary situation.” – Joe Nuxhall.

Scary and costly, had the Reds really still been in the game. Nuxhall pitched two-thirds of an inning, giving up 5 runs on 2 hits and 5 walks before he was taken out by veteran Manager Bill McKechnie in favor of 22-year old Jake Eisenhart, who used his only appearance in an MLB game to get the final out. Neither Nuxhall nor Eisenhart, of course,  were tagged with the losing decision.

Nuxhall would get the first of his 135 career MLB wins, but it would not come for another eight years in 1952. Nuxhall’s mark in the big leagues for 16 seasons (1944, 1952-66) was 135-117 with an ERA of 3.90.

Youngest Pitcher to Win an MLB Game in the Modern Era … Rogers McKee *


Rogers McKee, Age 17 Youngest Pitcher to Win an MLB Game October 3, 1943

Rogers McKee, Age 17
Youngest Pitcher to Win an MLB Game
October 3, 1943

Lefty Rogers Hornsby McKee (DOB: 9-16-1926) was 17 years 2 weeks, and 3 days old when he won his first and only decision as a big league pitcher on the  last day of the season as a complete game pitcher for the visiting Philadelphia Phillies over the home team Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field on October 3, 1943.  THe score was 11-3, Philles. McKee worked the whole 9, giving up 3 earned runs on 5 hits. He also walked 5, struck out 1, and never won again in the bigs. In fact, the breadth of his MLB CAREER (1943-44) consisted of 5 games and a 1-0 record with a 5.87 ERA..

McKee hurt his pitching arm in 1944 and shifted mainly to the job of playing first base as a minor leaguer for 12 seasons (1944, 1946-57), achieving a career minors batting average of .287 with 157 home runs.

Joe Nuxhall passed away on November 15, 2997 at the age of 79. Rogers McKee lives in retirement at the age of 86.


* 8/24/13: As “accuracy police chief” Cliff Blau has duly inferred and noted in his comment on the original presentation of this data, TPPE was remiss in not clarifying two factors in the Rogers McKee mark: (1) (unstated) There is no official baseball mark for the earliest age pitching win in baseball, and (2) (stated) “Willie McGill (1890, pre-modern era) won 11 games for the Cleveland Players League team ay the age of 16.”

Therefore, Rogers McKee, at best, can only be credited with the unofficial earliest pitching win in the modern era. That is, for all players in the Modern Era, beginning with the advent of either the first year of the American League (1900) – or the first season of the 20th century (1901). Even that beginning date is sometimes debated among purists.


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5 Responses to “MLB Pitchers: Youngest of the Youngest”

  1. Darrell Pittman Says:

    Wasn’t David Clyde 18 or so? Not the youngest by any means, but still pretty young. It’s a shame what the Rangers did to him.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      David Clyde (DOB: 4/22/1955) was 18 when he broke in with the Texas Rangers on June 27, 1973. – Yes, it was awful. The early start hurt both his confidence and his arm and turned him loose on a Johnny Football-type run through the usual pitfall stops of fame and easy money. He was out of baseball and ruined as a talent by age 24.

  2. Wayne Williams Says:

    Bill: I would like to add another “youngest” pitcher to your list. Jim “Blackie” Derrington , born 11/29/39, was still just 16 when he became the youngest pitcher to start a MLB game. He started for the White Sox in K.C. against the A’s on Sept. 30, 1956, still two months short on 17. He pitched six innings giving up six runs (five earned) and took the 7-6 loss. At almost 74, he lives in LaHabra. California.

  3. Cliff Blau Says:

    Willie McGill won 11 games for the Cleveland Players League team at the age of 16.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Thank you, Cliff, for that clarification. I intended to make that clear in the first place that I was referring to the unofficial mark for the Modern Era when I noted Rogers McKee, but I overlooked the fact you have so correctly advanced about the earlier achievement by the younger Willie McGill. That has now been addressed as an addendum correction footnote in the column – with thanks to you and your always watchful eye.

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