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

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

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