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Pat Jordan
June 01, 1987
In 1952, Ron Necciai, 19, struck out 27 batters in nine innings
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June 01, 1987

Kid K

In 1952, Ron Necciai, 19, struck out 27 batters in nine innings

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The Bristol pitcher was always a little short-tempered on days he was scheduled to start. Little things bothered him, and then his stomach would begin to burn. Sometimes Harry Dunlop, his catcher and close friend, would help Necciai take his mind off his nerves by kidding him about the girls at the local women's colleges. But most of the time Necciai would end up taking one of those black pills. He often ate breakfast alone—boiled eggs and dry toast—and read The Sporting News. He would then sit on a bench outside the Hotel Bristol and while traffic passed, turn to the back pages to check the endless columns of statistics of other low minor leaguers like himself. At noon, when his teammates were probably shooting pool, he might go alone to a movie and lose himself in the darkened theater for a few hours. This day was a cool one, good for his stomach, he thought.

When Necciai got to Trayer's for his afternoon meal, Dunlop was waiting for him. They ate together: the tall, gangling, high-strung pitcher and the slightly shorter, squatter, loquacious catcher. Often Jack Trayer let them eat for free. After lunch they went back to their rooms to pack for the game and set off on foot through town toward Shaw Stadium. Bristol was a nice, friendly town, a town without pressure.

Before the game, Necciai sat in the dugout next to manager Detore to discuss the evening's pitching strategy. Detore told him in a gruff voice how many curveballs he should try to throw for strikes and what he should throw in various situations. Necciai listened and nodded to Detore while watching the sun set beyond the outfield fence, which was painted with advertisements for King's Quality Clothes and Burrough's Home Furnishings and the Bristol Furniture Company.

In many ways, this was the part of the game the pitcher loved most—sitting there, listening to his manager tell him what to do. He liked the way the manager ordered each game for him. It calmed him, took the pressure off. He had only to take the mound and do what he was told. But even more than that, the pitcher just liked sitting there, listening to the gruff, older man who was like a father to him.

"When the Pirates wanted to send me to New Orleans to regain my strength," says Necciai, "I told them I didn't want to go. I said, 'Where's George Detore?' They said he was at Bristol. So I said, 'Then I want to go to Bristol.' I knew if anyone would take care of me, it would be George. He was a fantastic man. Great with kids. Strong, tough, confident. I used to sit next to him on the bench whenever I could. I'd talk his ear off. About anything. Whenever I couldn't do something the way he wanted me to, it used to eat me up. He always calmed me down. I was his fair-haired boy. He made sure I ate right and didn't overexert myself. He mapped out everything for me. How many pitches I'd throw in a game, how many games I'd pitch before I moved up. The time was getting near. I knew the Pirates were going to move me up soon, and in some ways I didn't want to leave George behind. Like I said, he was like a father to me."

"He said that?" says George Detore, now 80, at his home in Utica, N.Y. "I'm flattered. Ronnie was always a good boy, but he was never sure of himself. He never let it out. He kept it bottled up inside. Still, he never complained."

Necciai had signed as a first baseman at a Pirate tryout at Forbes Field in 1950. His first assignment was to Salisbury. Detore, a former catcher with Cleveland, was the manager. "I saw the kid couldn't hit a whole helluva lot," says Detore, "so I made him into a pitcher."

Necciai had pitched briefly at Monongahela High, near Pittsburgh, but his mound career had ended abruptly when he lost control of a fastball and broke a batter's ribs. His coach took him out, and Necciai rarely pitched again until he got to Salisbury. He wasn't successful there, either.

"I walked everyone in sight," says Necciai. He was quickly shunted to Shelby of the Class D Western Carolina League, but after only a few days, he packed up and went home. "I really don't know why I left," he says. "I guess I thought I'd never make it. There were hundreds of D leagues then, and I was just one of thousands of players. Baseball was never really a passion of mine. To be honest, I never did have any passions. Baseball was just something to do. I was just an average kid drifting through, and it didn't seem to make much sense to stay."

Back in Monongahela, Necciai got a job in a steel mill outside of town. He labored beside men who would spend most of their working lives there. That sobered him up pretty quickly. Baseball didn't seem like such a bad life after all, so the next year he again found himself in Salisbury with Detore. After his slow start, the Pirates were ready to release him. Necciai himself was ready to go. He was barely able to support himself on his $150-a-month baseball salary. Detore, however, was not ready to quit on the tall, nervous pitcher. He convinced the Bucs they should keep Necciai for a little while longer, and then he convinced Necciai to stay by making him the team's bus driver for an extra $90 a month. "He was a pretty fair bus driver," Detore remembers. "But he still wasn't much of a pitcher. One game he gave up something like 12 runs in the first two innings. By then, even I was ready to quit on him."

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