The Thirty-Year Journey of a Major League Pitcher and Broadcaster

29 December 2009

Forbes Field Photo Gallery

Nellie signs an autograph for a young fan on the field after a game; Nellie pauses during a night game, and a news story about the end of Nellie's career by Pittsburgh sportswriter Les Biederman.

20 December 2009

Praise for Nellie King’s “Happiness is like a Cur Dog”

Here's what they're saying....

“1960 was the start of Nellie King’s second career as a broadcaster working at small radio stations near Pittsburgh. It was the year the Pirates became “World Champions” by defeating the New York Yankees in a seven game World Series on Bill Mazeroski’s “walk-off” home run. Where do you go from there? Well, in 1967 Nellie replaced Don Hoak on the Pirate broadcasting team. It’s a whole new reason why this book is a great read. In his early years working with Bob Prince he had the chore of closing most of the games. Bob would say, 'There’s a fly ball to the outfield and when it comes down, Nellie will be back with the re-cap.' With a King and a Prince, how can you go wrong?”
-- Ralph Kiner, Hall of Famer and Mets Broadcaster

“From Branch Rickey to the colorful Bob Prince, Nellie King has had a 30-year ride in pro ball that will keep you turning the pages of his book. To say it’s a must-read is an understatement. Thanks, Nellie, for taking us along!”
-- Joe Garagiola, Hall of Fame Broadcaster

“Nellie King’s memoirs take Western Pennsylvanians on an enjoyable trip through many of the great moments in the area’s sports yesteryears, particularly those seasons when the Pirates were at the top of the baseball world. His reminiscences strike familiar chords when he writes about his local radio days covering the Masters and other tournaments in my golfing heydays. Nellie has always been one of the ‘good guys’ in the sports world, and that comes through on the pages of this book.”
-- Arnold Palmer, World-renowned Pro Golfer

“Lanky, long-armed Nellie King pitched exactly 173 and a third innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1954 until 1957. He won seven, lost five games (including one in the Grand Canyon), and saved six. But far more than most players with longer and glitzier resumes, Nellie made baseball his life by turning his colorful experiences and sweet insight into stories. And here he has done us all the great favor of writing them down. Somebody buy this man a beer!”

-- Mark Bowden, Best-selling Author of Blackhawk Down

15 December 2009

Keith Olbermann Praises Nellie's Book (Video)

Did we mention that Happiness is Like a Cur Dog makes an excellent and unique Christmas present?

11 December 2009

Labor-Management Relations in the B.C. ("Before Cash") Era of Major League Baseball

In an age when some Major League players earn millions of dollars a season, younger baseball fans know little about the "B.C." era of the game, when players counted themselves lucky to receive $40 a week. Those who played the game in the "Before Cash" era also lacked long-term pension plans or other economic "safety nets" unless they spent more than four years in the Major League.  Nellie was just such a player. Here he recounts his shock upon realizing how little power players had when he attended an MLB Players Association meeting in New York City in the fall of 1956.  

Happiness is Like a Cur Dog makes a great Christmas present for young and not-so-young fans of baseball and anyone who wishes to understand baseball's role in 20th century American history.

An Eye-Opening MLBPA Meeting

After the 1956 season, my wife Bernadette and I returned to Newark, NJ, where I found work at the Newark Star Ledger in the circulation department. In the early fall I received a phone call from Bob Friend, the Pirates’ player representative for the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). I was informed there was a MLBPA meeting in the offices of Norman Lewis on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Given my proximity to New York, he asked me to attend the meeting for him and take notes. I eagerly accepted.

Park Avenue was virgin territory for me. I was impressed with the tall buildings and luxurious surroundings. I went from being impressed to awed when I entered the offices of J. Norman Lewis, then the player’s representative, and was introduced to the other team representatives–Robin Roberts (Phillies), Sherman Lollar (White Sox)), Bob Nieman (Baltimore), Early Wynn (Cleveland), Roy Sievers (Washington), and others. With a long history in the game, I knew every player in the room. I can’t say they had the same knowledge of me, but it was exciting to be in their company and to be a part of their deliberations.

Robin Roberts, with the aid of Norman Lewis, handled the meeting before a scheduled visit by Commissioner Ford Frick. Lewis informed us that the commissioner could give us only 30 minutes of his time for the meeting, which raised some eyebrows. We wondered what could make him so busy after the World Series and end of the season. Lewis emphasized that we had better use the limited time wisely by choosing a few topics that were of most importance.

After some discussion, we agreed there were two specific subjects we wanted to address. First was the increase in television revenues from the All Star Game and World Series. We desired to have portions of the additional money allocated for funding the players’ pension plan. The second item was to include the wives and children as participants in the health care plan that at the time covered only the players. Sure of our decision, we awaited the commissioner.

Ford Frick arrived on time and was introduced by Norman Lewis to all the players. Following the introductions, Robin Roberts began the meeting by expressing our appreciation for the commissioner taking time to meet with us. Aware of the time limit, he informed Ford Frick there were only two items we want to seriously discuss with him.

Robin was very articulate in expressing our views about the need for additional money to  fund the pension plan given the increase in television rights and advertising revenue. As he turned to Frick for a comment we were surprised to hear the commissioner say, “Well, you know I can’t discuss such a proposal with you. You’ll have to take that up with the Owner’s Pension Fund committee.” That ended further discussion on that topic.

Robin quickly approached the subject of providing health insurance for the wives and children of major league players. Frick shot that down as quickly as he had the pension funding. He stated we would have to take that up with the Owners’ Committee.

Our two discussion items took up less than five minutes of his time, and both were shot down.

The conversation with the commissioner then turned to items so trivial they were embarrassing, but quickly caught the attention of Frick. Bob Nieman informed the commissioner of the background in center field at Baltimore that caused problems for hitters. He said, “There is a house painted in glowing white, located just to the left of center field. When a right-hander is pitching it makes it difficult for batters to pick up the pitch." I noticed the commissioner begin to take notes.

Someone followed with a complaint about the situation in Cleveland: no toilet was available for players in the bullpen. They had to go behind the bullpen, or walk back to the dugout to take care of these bodily functions. Frick continued taking notes.

A similar complaint was made about Kansas City, then a relatively new team in the American League. There was no toilet in the bullpen, but also none in the dugout, so player had to go all the way back into the clubhouse to relieve themselves.

These discussions took up the remainder of the time. The commissioner put the pencil and paper away and before leaving told us how good is was to have a discussion with the Players’ Association. Norman Lewis then escorted Frick out of the office to the elevator. When he returned, his comments were brief but educational. 

“Gentlemen, you have just spent thirty minutes discussing your problems with the most powerful man in the game, the Commissioner of Baseball.” Pausing briefly, shaking his head in disbelief, he continued, “You know what he’s going to do for you? He’s going to change the background in Baltimore for hitters. He’s going to put a toilet in the bull pen in Cleveland and one in the dugout in Kansas City.”

Lewis summed up the futility of our situation, “Gentlemen” he began, “You think you have problems. And you
do have serious problems: Nobody is listening to you!” Baseball then was a paternalistic system. The owners were the parents and we were the children and each party accepted their role.

Eventually, a man with experience, knowledge, fortitude, and a keen understanding of labor management problems became head of the Major League Baseball Players Association. That man was Marvin Miller, who, along with Curt Flood, forever changed the relationship between owners and players. 

Players no longer believe they need someone to take care of them when their career is over. Marvin Miller made them believe they had power. The motto became, “Take care of me now and I’ll be able to take care of myself later.”

07 December 2009

A Clubhouse Comment by Legendary Pitcher Murry Dickson

I was to be discharged from the Army on September 28, 1952. In early September of that year I received a letter from Pirates General Manager Branch Rickey, who, always ahead of the curve in scouting talent, wanted to take a look at the young players from the Pirates farm system that were about to be discharged from service. He asked if I could make it to Ebbets Field when the Pirates would be playing the Dodgers. 

Could I? Hell, I'd walk all the way to Brooklyn if I had to! With two other players on the 60th Regiment team, we drove to Ebbets Field early enough to await the arrival of the Pirates’ team bus.
When it arrived, I introduced myself to Bob Rice, the Pirates’ traveling secretary, and showed him Mr. Rickey's letter. He was unaware of the workout and took me to the clubhouse to meet manager Billy Meyer. Surprisingly, Billy Meyer didn't know anything about the workout either, but told “Doc” Jorgensen, the team trainer, to get me a uniform. I put on a major league uniform and stepped onto a major league field for the first time that day in September 1952 at Ebbets Field.
The only players on the '52 Pirates I had played with in the minors were Frank Thomas, Cal Hogue, and Dick Smith. Before batting practice I got into a “pepper game” and figured one of the coaches would inform me when they wanted me to work out. I heard nothing. As batting practice began I headed out to the outfield to shag fly balls. When the pitchers began to do their running, I thought, “I might as well join them.”
When batting practice ended, I anxiously wondered when someone would take a look at my pitching skills. I went back to the dugout when I noticed the starting pitchers were beginning their warm ups. Having played six years in the minor leagues, I knew I wasn’t going to do any throwing for anyone, so I headed back to the visiting team clubhouse.
The clubhouse radio was on and Red Barber and Vince Scully, who were doing the Dodger broadcast, went over the starting lineups. I began to undress and noticed the only player remaining in the clubhouse was pitcher Murry Dickson (1916-1989), who was then in the twelfth year of a twenty-year major league career. He had tasted champagne with the St. Louis Cardinal Championship teams in the 1940s and won 20 games in 1951 on a Pirates’ team that won only 64 games. He was the only truly qualified major league pitcher on the 1952 Pirates’ team that lost a record 112 games. I had been a huge Cardinal fan as a kid, and to be in the same clubhouse with Murry Dickson was a treasured moment.
Dickson was listening to the broadcast in the fist inning, with two out and Frank Thomas at bat for the Pirates. Thomas hit a low line drive to center field, which Frank thought Duke Snider had caught on the fly, but actually was trapped by Snider. I still recall the description of the play by Red Barber: “Thomas’ line drive was trapped by Snider in center field and he relays it quickly to Jackie Robinson at second base.” Excitedly, Barber continued, “Now Thomas is heading into center field and Robinson is chasing him, and tags him for the final out in shallow center field.”
Dickson, who had seen a lot of ugly baseball that season, said “They ought to send some of these guys so far into the minor leagues that even 'The Sporting News' couldn't reach them.” 

(Image from Gary Bedingfield's website, Baseball in Wartime http://www.baseballinwartime.com)

Kentucky Baseball Blog Praises Nellie

wonderful blog by an eloquent baseball fan in Kentucky praises Nellie. We thank him for his kind comments.

30 November 2009

Mehno: King's book worth the read

Another great review of Nellie's book, this time by John Mehno of Western Pennsylvania's Beaver County Times:

Nellie King has written a book, “Happiness Is Like a Cur Dog,” and it would be perfect for any baseball fan on your Santa list.
The book sells for $10.70 in soft cover and $15.40 in hardback at (www.authorhouse.com/bookstore), which makes it one of the season’s great bargains.
The subtitle is, “The Thirty Year Journey of a Major League Pitcher and Broadcaster,” but that’s only part of the story.
It’s really the 81-year journey of Nellie King from Shenandoah, Pa., to Pittsburgh sports icon.
His storytelling skills are superb, the writing style is smooth and witty. The people he’s met vividly come to life: Branch Rickey, Roberto Clemente, Bob Prince, and even the managers at KDKA who swept King out of the Pirates radio booth in 1975 because of their personal vendetta against Bob Prince.
King’s baseball career started in a time when players took two-day train trips to their minor-league outpost and wore triple-digit numbers in spring training because there were so many hopefuls.
After his major-league career was derailed by an arm injury, King endured a couple of unsatisfying non-sports jobs, then fell into broadcasting in Greensburg.
He got a spot on the Pirates broadcast team in 1967, and was Prince’s sole partner from 1971-75. His easy style and player’s perspective were the perfect counterpoint to Prince’s fan-based bombast.
When that ended without warning, King found a new purpose in the Duquesne University athletic department.
A lot of people try to tell stories and wind up saying, “Aw, you had to be there.” That never happens with King. The reader feels like he is there.
Recent years have presented King with a number of major health challenges, including cancer, heart surgery, Parkinson’s disease and a near fatal case of pneumonia in 2007. But back every time, kept an amazingly positive perspective, and wrote a great book.
Nellie King, 0-for-23 as a major-league hitter, has hit a home run as an author.
Get a copy. Give some copies.

25 November 2009

Nellie's Radio Interview on ESPN 1250

You can hear Nellie's interview on ESPN 1250, hosted by Guy Junker, Stan Savran, and Chris Mack, which aired on November 24, 2009. Happiness is Like a Cur Dog is now available for sale on book shelves at Barnes and Nobles stores in Pittsburgh.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

18 November 2009

Thank You, Keith Olbermann!

Nellie sends a big shout out and "thank you" to Keith Olbermann, who has reviewed Happiness is like a Cur Dog on his MLB blog, Baseball Nerd, as well as giving the book his "plug of the week" last night on "Countdown" on MSNBC.

As a result of the "Olbermann bump," the book now ranks among the top 50 titles on Amazon.com's list of "autobiographies of the rich and famous." (Though Nellie is quick to note he was never rich, since he played the game in the B.C. era of baseball--"Before Cash!")

Nellie and the family now add, to their list of many things for which to be grateful this coming Thanksgiving Day, the kindness of Mr. Keith Olbermann, a true-blue fan of baseball!

28 October 2009

From the Archives

Nellie Recalls the Moment the Pirates Won the 1960 World Series

In honor of tonight's first game of the 2009 World Series championship, Nellie recalls a series that the Yankees lost, in the last inning of the last game. Nellie's book is now on sale, and would make a great holiday gift for Pirate fans and baseball aficionados everywhere.

Enjoy this excerpt:

...The 1960 Pirates were a group of experienced, mentally tough, hungry, happy, at times crazy, but always-confident players who felt they owned the final three innings of every game. To the fans and the media, they were the “Battling Bucs.”

Benny Benack’s Dixieland Band created a loose and fun-filled atmosphere at Forbes Field that summer with a theme song written by an advertising agency for Iron City Beer, which had everyone singing, “The Bucs Are Going All the Way, All the Way this Year!” Little did the fans realize that the team’s trademark of coming from behind to miraculously win games would continue all the way to the final inning of the last game of the World Series.

The series was supposed to be a mismatch between the favored New York Yankees and the underestimated Pirates. It was, when you added the total runs scored that the Bucs won all the close games. Prior to the Series, I interviewed a few Pirates’ players, asking whom they thought would be the star of the Series. Groat, Face, Law, Hoak, Clemente, and Virdon were often mentioned. Harvey Haddix, whom I had played baseball with in the Army, was the only player to pick Bill Mazeroski. I asked him why, and with the wisdom of a veteran pitcher he said, “Because the Yankees will pitch to him.”

The Series, which began and ended in Forbes Field, was as dramatic as you could get. The Bucs won the opener 6-4, but were blown out in two straight embarrassing losses, 16-3 and 10-0. Their confidence shaking, the Bucs won the final two in Yankee Stadium with strong pitching from Law, Haddix, and Face, who saved the first three wins.

With the Pirates leading 3-2 in the series, back in Forbes Field for the sixth and, if needed, a seventh game, winning the World Series was now a reality for Pittsburgh fans.

However, Whitey Ford shut out the Bucs 12-0 for the second time, so there would be a seventh game. New York Daily News sportswriter Dick Young best described the situation. His lead line read: “As Mrs. Dionne said to Dr. Dafoe, ‘Don’t go away. There’s more to come’.” (Dr. Dafoe was the name of the doctor who delivered the famed Dionne quintuplets.)

The series now came down to one last game. It was to be the most memorable baseball game ever played in Pittsburgh, and perhaps in World Series, history. Blowing an early 4-0 lead, the Pirates trailed 5-4 following Yogi Berra’s three run homer off ace reliever Elroy Face in the sixth inning. The Yankees appeared to wrap it up with two more homers in the eighth for a 7-4 lead. But there was indeed “more to come.”

Trailing by three, the Pirates’ Gino Cimoli pinch hit for Face and singled to right center. Then the Pirates got a huge break when Virdon’s grounder to Tony Kubek appeared to be a sure double play ball, but the ball took a bad hop on the “alabaster plaster” (as Pirates’ announcer Bob Prince described the rock hard infield at Forbes Field), hitting Kubek in the throat and putting two on and no outs. The blow forced Kubek to leave the game and Joe DeMaestri replaced him at shortstop.

With nobody out, Groat gave one of many of his clutch hits, with a single to drive in Cimoli. Jim Coates replaced Bobby Shantz, who had earlier pitched four scoreless innings. With runners at first and second, Bob Skinner moved Virdon and Groat to third and second with a perfect sacrifice, but Rocky Nelson’s fly ball to right did not allow Virdon to score. With two out and a 7-5 lead, Coates would make the blunder that set the scene for the most exciting finish of a deciding game in the history of the World Series.

Roberto Clemente came to bat and tapped a slow roller down the first base line, which should have been the final out of the inning, but Coates was late covering at first and Clemente, hustling as he always did, was safe. Virdon scored, to cut the Yankees’ lead to one run at 7-6. Hal Smith, who replaced Burgess (who left for a pinch runner in the seventh) hit what then appeared to be the series-winning hit. With the count of 2-2, Smith hit a three run homer to left center that gave the Bucs a 9-7 lead going into the ninth.

Bob Friend, who rarely relieved, was called on to finish the game. Bobby Richardson and pinch hitter Dale Long opened the Yankees’ ninth with singles to put the tying runs on base. With the Yankees’ left-handed power hitters—Maris, Mantle, and Berra—coming up, Murtaugh had no choice but to go with left-handed pitcher Harvey Haddix. Harvey retired Maris on a foul out, but Mantle singled, scoring Richardson to make it 9-8 as Dale Long, the tying run, went to third just ahead of the throw by Clemente with only one out.

Casey Stengel, who had erred in allowing Long to stay in the game, finally realized he needed speed, and Gil McDougald was inserted to pinch run for Long at third base.

In one of the most unusual plays, Berra hit a line drive to Rocky Nelson, who was holding Mantle on at first base. Nelson trapped the ball, tagged first, which took off the force play at second. As Nelson went to throw to second, Mantle, who probably thought the ball was caught on the fly, or made one of the most intelligent running decisions in series history, (I firmly believe it was the former) slid back into first base ahead of Nelson’s tag, as McDougald scored the tying run. I vividly recall watching catcher Hal Smith after this play. His head and shoulders dropped in disbelief. The game was now tied and his three-run homer was just a footnote in the box score. Haddix then retired Bill Skowron to bounce out to end the inning.

Viewing the game from one of the booths overhanging the first base side at Forbes Field, I recall how eerily silent it was, similar to a wake, as the Pirates came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. Bill Mazeroski stepped in to face Ralph Terry, the fifth New York pitcher of the game.

The rest is history. Maz hit what many believe remains the most dramatic home run in baseball history to beat the Yankees 10-9 and capture the 1960 World Series Championship.

How Mazeroski felt during those historic moments remained untold until some forty years later. It came not during a sports interview, but during a post-dinner question and answer session at a Pirates Alumni golf outing at South Hills Country Club in the summer of 2001. An audience member asked Maz to “Walk us through what was going on in your mind at that time.” Maz, in his humble “aw shucks” way, preferred not to respond until everyone, players included, pleaded with him to do so.

Roy McHugh, a prominent sports writer for the Pittsburgh Press in 1960, had witnessed Maz’s home run, and when I told him later about the question asked by a fan at the dinner he remarked, “What a great question! Nobody thought to ask Maz that question before.”

As best as I can recall, this is how Maz described that unforgettable event:

“As a kid living in Rayland, Ohio, I was a big Cleveland Indians fan and hated the Yankees. I remember thinking as we took the field in the top of the ninth inning with a two run lead, ‘here we are, needing only three outs to beat the Yankees to win the World Series.’ However, when the inning began to fall apart and they tied the game I started to think, ‘The damn Yankees always seem to win the big games!’ After the inning ended in a tie, I sat dejected in the Pirates’ dugout, feeling the disappointment of losing the lead, until I heard a coach holler, ‘Maz, grab a bat, you’re the lead off batter in the inning.’

“I had completely forgotten I was the batter to open the bottom of the ninth inning.”

Maz continued his vivid recollection of that moment,

“All I was thinking of was getting a good ball to hit and to hit it hard. The first pitch from Terry was a high fastball that I took for a ball. I remember hearing Johnny Blanchard, who took over the catching duties when Berra moved to left field, holler to Terry, ‘Keep the ball down on this guy. He’s a good high ball hitter!’ The next pitch was another high fastball, but in the strike zone. I knew I hit it good and ran hard, knowing it could be a double and possibly a triple as Berra was going to have trouble fielding the carom off the left center field wall.

"As I approached second base, I noticed the third base umpire raise his hands signaling a home run. That’s when I began celebrating, waving my hat, knowing we had actually beat the Yankees. From the time I reached second base and saw the umpire signal home run, until I touched home plate, my feet never touched the ground.”

The crowd at Forbes Field, along with people working downtown and everywhere in western Pennsylvania, began a spontaneous and amazingly peaceful revelry. To this day, Pirates’ fans who took part in the celebration can tell you where they were and what they were doing when “Maz” hit that home run. Only a year ago a fan told me he was driving on Smithfield Street near Kaufmann’s department store, listening to the game on radio when “Maz” hit the home run. He jumped out of the car, left the motor running, went into a bar across the street and joined in the festivities. Soon the people in the bar moved out into the street with their drinks, joining in the bigger celebration outside. Confetti was now pouring from office buildings downtown; people were driving with their lights on, yelling, and honking their horns.

I was lucky to witness the Pirates’ clubhouse celebration. Players sprayed champagne all over the room as they shared hugs with each other. Bob Skinner and Bill Virdon each grabbed a bottle of champagne and shrewdly hid them in their lockers. ….

14 October 2009

PRESS RELEASE for Nellie's Book

Nelson “Nellie” King is a captivating storyteller who loves to share highlights from his long association with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He witnessed many historic moments during his days as a pitcher (1954-1957) and a broadcaster (1967-1975) with his beloved “Buccos,” from the 1950s when the Pirates were “in the basement” to the thrill of the 1971 World Series Championship victory. Now King has recorded his memories in his new book, Happiness is like a Cur Dog: The Thirty Year Journey of a Major League Pitcher and Broadcaster.

In his memoir, Nellie takes us from his birthplace in the hard coal-mining village of Weston Place, Pennsylvania, to the golden age of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball.

One of King's most cherished and vivid memories goes back to 1941 when, as a thirteen-year-old, he saw his first major league game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia as the Phillies squared off against the Cincinnati Reds. Back in those days, fans were allowed to exit from the playing field. As King walked past the visitors' dugout, his brother remarked that both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had sat there. Fourteen years later, on April 24, 1955, Nellie would also sit there in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform.

King considers 1956 the most enjoyable season of his major league career. Nellie was a part of the Pirates team that surprised everyone by moving into first place in the National League on June 20. That year, he had a record of 4-1, 7 saves, and an ERA of 3.15. Joe L. Brown, who was in his first season as a general manager, made a bold decision to go with a roster dominated with talented but inexperienced players, creating the nucleus of the 1960 World Series Champion team.

Although an arm injury unexpectedly ended his bullpen days in 1957, Nellie was able to keep a positive attitude and strong faith that things happen for a reason.

Nellie ultimately found his true second career, sports broadcasting, in 1960. From 1967-1975, he was one-half of the Pirates broadcasting duo alongside Bob “The Gunner” Prince on KDKA radio. Together, the “royal” team of Prince and King would broadcast what Prince called the "Halcyon Days" of Pirate baseball. Current Pirate color analyst Steve Blass thinks that Nellie had a great style of interviewing. Blass thought that King's best quality was to make the person he interviewed feel at home and comfortable.

King's playing and broadcasting careers spanned a generation, and his comments on the game as it is played today are wrapped in colorful stories from baseball's golden age. As the undisputed folk historian of Pirates baseball, King brings to life some of the greatest names in Pirates history: Branch Rickey, Danny Murtaugh, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Vernon Law, and Dave Giusti. With a sparkling talent for narrative and a reverence for the players, managers, coaches, sportswriters, and fans of his beloved Pirates, King provides rich insights into the politics and economics of baseball during a period of profound social and cultural change, particularly the game’s role in the transformation of race relations in mid-century America and the way that farm systems and growing franchises changed the meaning of baseball in America, on and off the field.

If you love the Pittsburgh Pirates, baseball history, or a good tale well told, this book is for you!

02 October 2009

The 1956 Pittsburgh Pirates' Official Team Photograph

Nellie is the tall guy in the middle of the second row from the top. In 1956, Roberto Clemente was the only Black player on the Pirates' team.

25 September 2009

The Book is On Sale NOW!

    SOFT COVER: $10.70
    HARD COVER: $15.40

    Free Preview:

    My most poignant memory of Roberto Clemente's leadership was the night before the 1971 World Series in Baltimore. Staying at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, my wife and I got on the elevator with Roberto and Willie Stargell. As the elevator door closed, Roberto said to Willie, “Do not press or try too hard in the Series, Willie. I will carry the team.” He then said, “When we get off the elevator, come over to my room. I want to talk with you.” I told my wife, “Roberto is a clever man. He knows that if Willie can play as well he did before a knee injury in August, Willie will carry the team. But if he can't, Roberto will handle the job.”

    It turned out that Roberto did carry the team, batting .414, fielding and throwing superbly, and hitting a big home run in the fourth inning of the final game. Stargell, who struggled throughout the series, scored the winning run in the eighth inning of the seventh game for a 2-1 win.

    Years later, I asked Stargell what they talked about in Roberto's room that evening. He said that Roberto told him that the excitement and media attention of his first World Series in 1960 made it difficult for him to concentrate and play at his best. “He told me not to try too hard and that he was now ready now to handle this leadership role because his experience in 1960. I did the same thing before the 1979 Series, gathering the younger players together to inform them of this, as Clemente did with me in 1971.” Unsurprisingly, Stargell carried the Pirates in the 1979 Series and, like Clemente, was named the Series MVP.

19 August 2009

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also...”

From the Introduction to Nellie's new book:

The Biblical saying, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” sums up my varied career. It is rewarding to look back over the 80 years of my life and realize that following my heart has always led me to happiness and satisfaction. From the time I graduated from high school until today, there were only four years when I was not doing what I truly wanted to do: two were spent in the army during the Korean War, and two devoted to trying to make a living selling mutual funds after the end of my baseball career. All the other years I found joy, satisfaction, and success by listening to my heart and doing things I truly loved.

True to the paradox many discover as they grow older, my overall memory has become less acute, while my recollections of long-ago games, events, and relationships are increasingly vivid and cherished. One memory in particular stands out: on a brilliant summer day in 1941 when I was 13 years old, I saw my first major league game. My older brother Bill and my uncle Nelson (for whom I am named) took me to Philadelphia to see the Phillies and Reds play at Shibe Park. The Cincinnati Reds had won consecutive National League titles in 1939 and 1940, so they grabbed my attention much more than the Phillies that day. I recognized pitchers Paul Derringer and Bucky Walters, as well as their manager, Bill McKechnie. The most recognizable of all, though, was Ernie Lombardi, the Reds’ huge catcher.

I barely noticed the Phillies’ double play combination that day. Danny Murtaugh was playing second and Bobby Bragan was at shortstop. As a child sitting in Shibe Park, I could never have imagined our paths would cross in the major leagues just 13 years later. Danny Murtaugh was my manager at New Orleans in 1954, and later with the Pirates in 1957. My wife, Bernadette, and I were honored when Danny later became the godfather of our first daughter, Laurie.

Years later, as a radio and television broadcaster for the Pirates, I was fortunate to renew my association with Danny when he managed the 1971 Pirates to a World Championship. I pitched for Bobby Bragan in 1955 at Hollywood, and in 1956 with the Pirates. Bragan’s confidence in my ability to throw strikes enabled me to enjoy my brief success at the major league level before an arm injury forced my retirement in 1957.

Seeing my first major league game with my uncle and brother was certainly memorable, but what happened after the game that day in Shibe Park remains particularly vivid. In those days, you could exit the old ballparks from the field. As a kid, I was completely enchanted to be that close to the diamond on which the players had moved, seemingly larger than life. As I walked, starry-eyed, past the visiting team’s dugout on the first base side, my brother said, “Hey, Nels—Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig sat in this dugout!”

Fourteen years later, on April 24, 1955, I was sitting in that very same dugout, wearing a Pirate uniform, about to make my first appearance as a starting pitcher in a major league game. From the perspective of the boy who first saw Shibe Park in 1941, the chance of this ever happening would have seemed as remote as making it into baseball’s Hall of Fame! Recalling my brother’s words on that summer day gave me a deep feeling of satisfaction that words can never describe.

This is the story of the wonderful journey that took me from the Milton S. Hershey School for Boys to the minor leagues, and then to a major league career as a relief pitcher for the Pirates. As such, it is a story about finding happiness, or rather, letting happiness find me.

Photo: Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics from 1909 to 1954, was renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1953

21 June 2009

What is a "Cur Dog"?

From the Basball Biography Project

 “Nellie was able to keep a positive attitude and strong faith that things happen for a reason. He had great admiration for Pirates General Manager Branch Rickey* and enjoyed quoting his parables. 

One of Nellie's favorites concerned the nature of happiness. "Mr. Rickey likened happiness to a 'cur-dog.' There was a worker who was busy painting a garage. Just as he was beginning to paint he noticed a cur dog [a "mutt"] nearby. Fascinated by the dog, he reached down and tried to pet the animal. As soon as he did, the dog ran away. So the painter returned to his job and soon the dog returned. The dog nudged his leg; unaware of the dog, the man kept painting and whistling. Suddenly he felt the dog reaching up and pawing at his thigh. 

Mr. Rickey would go on to explain, 'That's what happiness is. You can't go out looking and searching for it, if you do, it will escape from you and run away like that cur-dog. But if you go about your work, enjoying it, happiness will be there right beside you.'"

Written by Nellie's good friend, Baseball Writer Bob Hurte.

 * Wesley Branch Rickey was an innovative Major League Baseball executive best known for two things: breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier by signing African American player Jackie Robinson and later drafting the first Hispanic superstar Roberto Clemente; and creating the framework for the modern minor league farm system, as well as introducing the batting helmet. His many achievements and outspoken Christian faith earned him the nickname "the Mahātmā."

From the Archives

20 June 2009


by Jim O’Brien

Nellie King can't help himself. He is still Pittsburgh’s King of baseball lore. He just has to tell his stories about his days in baseball, and few can spin a tale better than this former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster. He was 80 years old in the winter of 2009 when I last spoke with him, and he had battled several health challenges the previous two years, including colon cancer, mild tremors, pneumonia, and a general lack of vigor, but he's bounced back in big-time style to the amazement of his many friends and followers. "The so-called golden years can kiss my behind," joked King during one of my visits.

King can swap stories about Roberto Clemente, Ralph Kiner, Paul Waner, Bob Prince, Dick Groat, and just about any name you can find in the Baseball Encyclopedia. Honus Wagner of the Pirates, a charter member in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, once said, “There ain’t much to being a ballplayer…if you’re a ballplayer.”

The same can be said of storytellers. King has the knack for sharing insightful and usually humorous stories about the people he met while playing for the Pirates and later as a sidekick to Bob Prince in the broadcast booth. There are people who make their living as baseball broadcasters who have yet to tell a story on the airwaves, but King was a natural at it. He knew a story when he saw one – the first requirement – and he knew how best to tell that story.

Nelson Joseph King, who was born in Shenandoah, Penna. on March 15, 1928, pitched for the Pirates for four seasons from 1954 to 1957 and shared the Pirates’ broadcast booth with Bob Prince for nine years (1967 through 1975). King is often the butt of his own baseball stories. He's quick to make fun of himself. 

He likes to tell a story about how he was the losing pitcher for the Pirates while touring the Grand Canyon. “The second game of a doubleheader was halted because of the Sunday Blue Laws when I was pitching,” recalled King. “I had hurt my arm and was sent down to our minor league team in Hollywood, California. I was in no hurry to get there. So my wife Bernadette and I stopped to see the Grand Canyon. I picked up a newspaper at a store there and saw two box scores for the Pirates from the previous day. They had completed the game I had pitched in and I was listed as the losing pitcher. I told Bernadette ‘I’ll bet I was the first pitcher to lose a game while in the Grand Canyon’.” 

I am so happy that Nellie King has written his stories and now has his own book chock-full of fun and games and insights into some memorable ballplayers and characters. King’s book will be competition for my books about Pittsburgh, but anyone who cares about this wonderful gentleman has to cheer this achievement. After all, I’ve gone to him countless times when I needed anecdotes about somebody in baseball. He has never let me down.

The Thirty-Year Journey of a Major League Baseball Pitcher and Broadcaster