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

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.

1 comment:

  1. Read the chapter on Roberto. The "Great One" was/is my hero but he did not have the best relationship with the media. But in this case, the media is a friend. Nellie has been blessed with a unique way of openning doors for the subjects of his interviews. He allows the interviewee and us to feel comfortable, like sitting in your favorite chair. All of us become important parts to the story.


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