Nelson “Nellie” King, pitcher and announcer of the Pittsburgh Pirates – author of one of the most distinctive baseball autobiographies ever written – one of the special people, beloved by most everybody who got to know him – passed away early this morning at the age of 82.
Few of us today can understand the necessity of persistence. Nellie lived it. He determined to pitch in the big leagues when that first meant convincing an independent club in the South to hire you, and another one to hire you after the first one changed its mind. Learn and practice and sweat and stick to it for eight years and you’d finally get there, as he did with the Pirates in 1954. And then watch it vanish due to an injury within four years.
So he started anew in another field: broadcasting. He did it not the way a player will today, stepping directly from the field to a big league booth. He went out and learned it, working at a series of small radio stations in suburban Pittsburgh – going to Forbes Field to report on the very team he had just been pitching for – and doing that for another seven years before getting a big break and a spot with the Pirates’ announcing team.
When fickle management made that end eight years later, Nellie King persisted again, going to Duquesne University as Sports Information Director, color announcer on the school’s basketball broadcasts, and golf coach. This career, his third, stuck. He only retired from the last parts of it six years ago.
Nellie recounted all of this in an extraordinary autobiography called Happiness Is Like A Cur Dog which I recommended at length here in this blog last November. The book is available here, and a wonderful obituary has been posted on the blog of the Duquesne radio station.
I had spoken to Nellie last Saturday and for what we both knew to be goodbye; the conversation was upbeat and philosophical and there were even some laughs. And though I was the one getting up and going back into the world and not he, the reassurances and the encouragement came from him to me.
I understand that was pretty much everybody’s experience with Nellie King, every day. I don’t think there’s anything better you can say about someone’s life. Farewell, Nellie, and — and I know it’s an odd word at a time like this – congratulations.