"I remember my first start vividly," says Necciai as he pulls into the long, winding driveway that leads to his home in the wealthiest section of Monongahela. "There was a lot of publicity leading up to the game. A lot of pressure. The Pirates were so bad they needed a shot in the arm. I got terrible butterflies when I took the mound. It was against the Cubs. They humped me up pretty good. If I hit you between the eyes that night with my fastball, you'd think a mosquito bit you. I couldn't bend it either. Maybe I had lost the confidence I had. Who knows?"
Necciai gave up 7 runs and 11 hits in that game, a 9-5 loss, and struck out only three batters. Afterward, Garagiola said, "He was shaking so bad out on the mound, he couldn't see my signals." A few days later against the Reds, Necciai struck out 5 of the 10 batters he faced in relief. "That was the best stuff I ever had in my life," he says today. "Better even than the 27-strikeout game."
He won his first and only major league game on Aug. 27, 1952, 4-3 over the Braves, giving up seven hits and striking out just one batter in eight innings. He finished the season, his first and last in the major leagues, with a 1-6 record, a 7.04 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 55 innings.
The Pirates were confident that in his second season, Necciai would regain his confidence and blow away big league hitters with the same blinding fastball and exploding curveball he had used in the minors. After all, he hadn't lost his stuff. Ted Kluszewski said Necciai had the best curveball he had ever seen. Paul Waner, a Hall of Famer, saw Necciai pitch one night and said, "Yes, man. I am just as well satisfied I don't have to face Ronnie, especially at night. I am now convinced that this boy can throw harder than Diz [Dizzy Dean] at his best. If I had a chance to start over, I would try to keep away from Necciai."
Despite Necciai's bleeding ulcer, the Army drafted him in January 1953. "Their attitude was, there was nothing wrong with me," he says. "In basic training, they made me eat what everyone else ate. When my pills ran out, I couldn't get any more. Pretty soon my ulcer started acting up. I couldn't hold down food. I spit up blood. In two months I lost 25 pounds. Finally, they gave me a medical discharge."
When Necciai returned to Pittsburgh in April, he weighed 150 pounds. Eager to catch up after having missed spring training, he rushed his throwing one day and felt a pain in his shoulder. "I guess I threw too hard before I was ready," he says. "It was a sharp pain. My arm swelled. I had no strength. I still can't lift things with it. You know, that was the first sore arm I ever had in my life. Imagine. One sore arm and it lasted forever."
The Pirates sent him back to Burlington, but the arm never came around. The club sent him to doctors, who couldn't find the problem, and then they began to wonder if their young, ulcerous pitcher hadn't worried himself into something that wasn't there. "They thought maybe it was in my head," Necciai says. "But it was in my arm all right."
He went home in the middle of the 1953 season to see if rest would cure him. In the spring of 1954, he couldn't throw more than five pitches in succession without intense pain. Cortisone shots didn't help, so he returned home to rest his shoulder for another season.
He began 1955 as a sore-armed pitcher with Hollywood of the Pacific Coast League and then drifted down to Waco of the Big State League. The pain remained. Finally, the Pirates sent him to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The same doctor who had operated on the arms of Dizzy Dean and Van Lingle Mungo found the source of Necciai's pain by twisting his shoulder back in just such a way that X-rays could pick up the ripped tissue. "The doctor told me it was the same thing that happened to Dizzy," says Necciai. "A tear in the posterior glenoid." He laughs. "I'll never forget those muscles. Anyway, I asked the doctor to explain what that meant. He said, 'Let me put it this way, son: Why don't you go home and get a job in a gas station?' "
Necciai leads a nice life. The license plate on his Cadillac reads NECTIE. He lives in an expensive, sprawling ranch house tucked far back in the rolling woods of Monongahela. When he's not on the road, he often lunches with Martha. He's close to his grown children and aging mother. Not bad for a boy who grew up poor in a row house in a mill town, many of whose inhabitants are today living on welfare.