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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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On the day after the game, the Bristol pitcher was a national celebrity. The Ed Sullivan Show wanted Necciai. The club said no. "What would I have done?" says Necciai now. "Would they put me on with a talking dog?" It was just the beginning.

Newspapers from all over the country called to interview him. No pitcher had ever struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning game. The major league record then was 19, set by Charlie Sweeney and Hugh (One Arm) Daily, both in 1884. Now it is 20, by the Red Sox' Roger Clemens in 1986. The most strikeouts previously recorded by a minor league pitcher in a nine-inning game was 25, by Clarence (Hooks) Iott in a Northeast Arkansas League game, June 18, 1941. When Detore learned about this, he was stunned. "Why, I had Hooks Iott on my team at Toledo in 1946," he said.

Dizzy Dean, then a radio broadcaster, congratulated the young pitcher on his achievement. "Ron Necktie," Dizzy said, had done some "pretty fair country pitching." The Associated Press said Necciai "may be the Bobby Feller of the future." A newspaper quoted Detore, who had once caught Feller in an exhibition game, as saying Necciai threw as hard as Feller, but that he more closely resembled Dizzy Dean because he was so loose-limbed. Soon, other favorable comparisons were made. Branch Rickey Sr. put him in a class with Dean and Christy Mathewson. Stan Musial said Rex Barney. And so on. For a while, every young pitching phenom became "the new Ron Necciai." And if that pitcher proved to be a flash in the pan, never fulfilling his promise, then his comparison with Necciai was even more appropriate. Ron Necciai would win only one major league baseball game.

But that night in Bristol, Necciai stood alone. When the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues listed the 50 most famous records in minor league baseball, Necciai's achievement was first. Justin (Nig) Clarke was cited second for his eight home runs in eight at bats in a 1902 Texas League game. Third was the unassisted triple play made by outfielder Walter Carlisle of Vernon in the Pacific Coast League in 1911. Carlisle began the play by catching a line drive while performing a somersault. He had been a circus acrobat.

Eight days after Necciai's performance, the Bristol fans held a night for him. They made him an honorary colonel in the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. They gave him a $1,000 U.S. Defense Bond and a photograph of himself in a Bristol uniform. The players presented him with a white dinner jacket. "We figured he'd be needing it soon," Dunlop says.

Then Necciai took the mound for the last time at Bristol, before 5,235 fans and Rickey Jr. Rickey had come to Bristol, he said, to see if Necciai was for real. "If he gets through the first inning," Rickey said, "he proves to me he's major league material." That night Necciai threw a two-hitter and struck out 24 batters. After the game, Rickey said to a local sportswriter, "He's a miracle."

Necciai had started four games for Bristol and had twice appeared in relief. He won all four starts, two of which were shutouts. He pitched a total of 42⅔ innings, giving up 10 hits, 2 earned runs and 20 walks. He struck out 109 batters, including 20, 19, 27 and 24 in the four starts. Of the 128 outs recorded, 109 of them came on strikeouts. His earned run average was 0.42.

Shortly after the 24-strikeout game, Necciai was sent up to Burlington of the Class B Carolina League. He stopped off in Pittsburgh first, ostensibly to undergo medical tests for his ulcer, but actually so the Pirates could capitalize on his burgeoning fame. The Bucs, dead last in the National League, needed all the publicity they could get from a visit to Forbes Field by Rocket Ron Necciai. He threw for almost an hour to the Pirates' catcher, Joe Garagiola, who said, "He can throw as hard as anybody in this league. He can throw as hard as Feller if he wants to. He could be the answer to our prayers."

Necciai won his first start for Burlington, before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 3,000 at Graham Park, but struck out only 14 batters. "I hope that people are not disappointed that I didn't strike out 27," he said after the game. He lost his second start 2-1 and struck out 12. He stayed in Burlington for a little more than two months, compiling a 7-9 record and missing several starts because of an ear infection. He still struck out a league-leading 172 batters in 126 innings, set a league record with eight consecutive strikeouts and whiffed four of the six batters he faced in the Carolina League All-Star Game.

On Aug. 6, 1952, less than two months past his 20th birthday, the Pittsburgh Pirates summoned Rocket Ron Necciai to the major leagues.

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