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.

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