SI Vault
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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While the Welch Miners were taking batting practice, the Bristol pitcher began to warm up along the leftfield line. After a few throws, Necciai could tell he didn't have his good stuff this night. He told his bullpen catcher he doubted he would be able to go nine. Necciai didn't seem to notice the Welch batters, and if he did, it didn't bother him much. He never pitched against batters in a game. He pitched according to the plan Detore mapped out for him on the bench. Midway through his warmups, Necciai felt a burning sensation in his stomach. The burning got worse as he began to sweat in the cool night air. When he finished, he walked back to the dugout and told Detore his ulcer was acting up. Detore told him to give it a shot anyway. "See how far you can go, son," he said.

Necciai did as he was told. He was starting a professional baseball game for only the 21st time in his life. The fans were still entering the small ballpark, with its slatted wooden bleachers. Some of them were buying hot dogs and popcorn, and others were still settling into their seats by the time Necciai retired the first three Welch batters. He struck out one on a called strike, and two swinging. He walked off the mound to a smattering of applause.

Bristol scored in the bottom of the first when the Welch starter walked four of the first five batters. Necciai retired the Miners in order again in the second inning on two swinging strikeouts and a routine ground ball to shortstop. Bristol scored another run in the second. The first Welch batter in the third reached base when the Bristol shortstop bobbled a grounder. Then Necciai bore down. He struck out the next three batters, two swinging, one looking.

Returning to the dugout, Necciai sat beside Detore and complained that his stomach was burning badly. He was throwing a lot of pitches, he said. It seemed as if every count was reaching 3-1. The more pitches he threw, the more heated he became and the more his stomach burned. The manager told him to hang on as long as he could. He sent the batboy, whom the players knew as Choo-Choo, to the clubhouse for some milk and cottage cheese. Necciai forced it down.

As the fourth inning began. Gene Thompson, the Bristol Herald Courier sports editor, got up from his seat in the press box. He had covered Appalachian League games for almost 20 years, and this game didn't seem much different from any other. Because he had already assigned a reporter to cover the game, he went back to his office.

Necciai is driving his black 1986 Cadillac past rolling hills that have long since been hollowed out by coal miners. He points to abandoned mines with old equipment rusting orange in the spring sunlight. "They used to operate on 24-hour-a-day shifts," he says. Across the Monongahela River, Necciai's hometown of Gallatin consists of little more than a few row houses and a firehouse. Farther south, running along the river for half a mile, is a junkyard of rusted car parts and steel-mill machinery. "My father and my stepfather both worked in the mills," he says. "Sometimes they were paid in scrip so they would have to shop at the company store. If they didn't, they'd have gotten fired.

"My mother cleaned houses to help out, and sometimes she worked in the mill, too. I had an older brother and three sisters. We were poor. For entertainment I used to walk the railroad tracks, firing rocks at the insulator wires. Whenever I wasn't throwing good for George Detore, he'd tell me to just remember how I used to throw those rocks. That was the motion I should use, he'd say. In the summer there was no Little League or anything, so we played pickup games. Sometimes we swam back and forth across the river just for something to do." He laughs. "The river was so polluted we could have walked across it.

"I owe so much to baseball. Baseball taught me how to travel. It taught me not to be afraid to leave here. I have my own sporting-goods business, Hays, Necciai & Associates, Inc. I'm a sales rep for hunting and fishing equipment. I travel all over the world. My ulcer never acts up anymore. I love my job, my life. Why, if I had it all to do over again. I wouldn't do anything different. I'm not one of those guys who are out of baseball and are always complaining. "What did the game ever do for me?' I got a lot more out of baseball than I ever put into it. They won't have to hold any benefits for Ron Necciai. People still know my name. It's helped me in business. Even strangers are always sending me letters asking for my autograph. They still remember that game. It's almost 40 years ago. That kinda thing has never been done before or since. It's a freak."

In the fourth inning, the Bristol pitcher hit one Welch batter, then struck out the next three, all swinging. The Twins scored another run in the bottom of the fourth, so that when he took the mound in the fifth, he was leading 3-0. Necciai's pitching motion was not much of a motion at all for such a tall pitcher. He did not swing his arms over his head, or turn sideways on one leg and then kick high before delivering. He used a little half-motion, which, in later years would be called a "no windup." He would hold the ball in his glove at his waist, bring it as high as his face and then lunge straight toward the batter. Sometimes he threw his fastball straight overhand and sometimes he swooped down sidearm, like Ewell Blackwell. whipping the ball across his body. In the fifth, he struck out one man swinging and two on called strikes. Bristol scored again in the bottom of the fifth to take a 4-0 lead. In the top of the sixth, Necciai struck out two batters swinging and a third looking. The Twins scored twice more in the bottom of the sixth.

When Necciai began the seventh, Bristol led 6-0, and he had struck out 17. While Necciai warmed up. a Bristol fan jumped out of the stands and walked to Jack Crosswhite, the Welch manager, who was coaching at third base. The fan handed Crosswhite a canoe paddle with a big hole cut in the blade. Crosswhite smashed the paddle against the side of the Twins' dugout in disgust.

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