BELLE VERNON, Pa. — Seventy years ago, Ron Necciai completed a feat that no other skilled pitcher — not Walter Johnson, not Bob Gibson, not Nolan Ryan, not anyone — ever managed: He struck out 27 hitters in a nine-inning game. The main league record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game, achieved 4 times, is 20.
It was May 1952, and Necciai, 19, had no clue what he had achieved in his no-hitter until his manager informed him and his catcher, Harry Dunlop, after the sport.
“I’ve heard every kind of things,” said Necciai, who did it while pitching for the Bristol Twins, a low-level minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates in Virginia. “I’ve heard the fans within the stands were chanting, 25, 26. I don’t do not forget that. I don’t listen to the fans. There’s a man down there between me and Dunlop with a bat.”
A reporter from The Bristol Herald Courier, the lone journalist to witness the sport, hurried to jot down an article that The Associated Press carried nationally. “The Ed Sullivan Show” asked Necciai to look, he said, but he and the Pirates declined. Just a few days later, Bristol held a Ron Necciai night to have a good time him. So far as most individuals were concerned, that was just about the top of his moment of fame.
And yet that extraordinary pitching performance defined his life perpetually — not only for Necciai, but for obsessed fans who see miracles in box scores.
As a toddler, I used to be one in every of them. Not way back, I had the chance — for the second time — to ask Necciai about that night.
‘Buy a Gas Station’
Necciai carried the popularity from the 27-strikeout game for the remaining of his profession, which turned out to not be long. He finished the 1952 season with a horrid Pirates squad, going 1-6 in 12 games.
That off-season, he was drafted into the Korean War, then discharged with chronic bleeding ulcers. He hurt his shoulder preparing for the baseball season, and a health care provider told him: “Son, go home and buy a gas station. You’re never going to pitch again.”
“That’s life,” Necciai told me. “Hell, after a when you recover from it.”
He became a manufacturer’s rep, selling hunting and fishing equipment. He and Martha, his wife of 67 years, raised three children.
The embers of his fame occasionally glowed. A few times when Necciai was traveling, he said, agents recognized his name and quickly stamped him through customs or put him on a flight.
But mostly there are the letters. They arrive from Germany, from the USA, from all over the place. Someone in Japan sends a 1,000-yen note every few months.
Some letters got here from my hometown. From me.
I spent loads of my childhood writing letters to athletes and asking for his or her autographs. In 1995, once I was 11, I wrote one to Necciai, whose feat I had examine in a long-defunct magazine named Collector’s Sportslook, and asked him questions on pitching.
He responded in elegant cursive, graciously answering the identical questions he has received for generations. We exchanged letters. He told me a few busy work trip, advised me to take heed to my mother and to remain in class.
I understand now that I used to be cultivating and pairing what became lifelong interests in sports and writing. But currently I’ve wondered what it was like for this man, now old, to still be recognized for something he did on a single day when he was young.
‘Baseball Doesn’t Last Eternally’
I called him, and in May he invited me to his neat home overlooking the plush green of the Mon Valley in Pennsylvania.
“They call this God’s waiting room,” he said with a chuckle upon greeting me.
Necciai is 90 with shoulders still broad. He has not lost much height since his 6-foot-5 playing days. He busies himself in retirement with crossword puzzles, and he and Martha can spot hummingbirds out one window and see their basil growing out the opposite.
He occasionally grabbed my arm to regular himself as he showed me memorabilia — a scrapbook containing his first signed contract, the telegram summoning him to the massive leagues, plaques commemorating the 1952 game.
“It’s getting somewhat harder and harder to walk,” Necciai said. “I actually have degenerative joint disease. Once you’re old, you’ve got to get something.”
At his dining room table, Necciai clasped copies of the letters he had sent me, just as he palmed the baseball so a few years ago.
Baseball doesn’t last perpetually for players, so you need to work just as hard in your education, he had written to me. Education lasts perpetually.
He hadn’t gotten a university education himself, and regretted it. But he didn’t have loads of other regrets. Necciai’s life was full by any measure. He had an extended marriage, a family, a house, those hummingbirds.
And he had his name within the record books. I asked him what it meant to him.
“If you happen to look back, nearly every thing,” he said. “I’m surprised on the folks that still remember. I haven’t played in 70 years. I still get fan mail every week. An actual big impression. It’s meant quite a bit.”
It was approaching midafternoon, time to say our goodbyes. The mail could be arriving soon, perhaps carrying a letter from a faraway stranger who would make him famous for yet one more day.