Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

In today’s world of 24-hour sports channels and social media handy on every cell phone, people around the globe can be instantly bombarded with video and stories about anything in baseball, whether it’s Shohei Ohtani’s latest home run or the Pittsburgh Pirates scoring three runs on a hit that traveled only 10 feet.

We are living in the information age and that makes 89-year-old Ron Necciai shake his head in amazement. He doesn’t want to think what it would have been like if today’s media was around when he put his name into baseball’s record book.

It was May 13, 1952, a cold and wet Tuesday night at Shaw Stadium in Virginia that Necciai, a Gallatin native, accomplished what no professional pitcher before or since has done. He struck out 27 batters in a nine-inning game.

The then 19-year-old Necciai was pitching on a rehab assignment for the Bristol Twins, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate in the Appalachian League, against the Welch Miners. Not every out was a strikeout. A passed ball allowed Necciai to strike out four batters in the ninth inning. He faced 31 batters in the game.

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues has called Necciai’s 27-strikeout game “the greatest individual performance in the history of baseball.”

If that happened today, we can only imagine how the social media sites would be blowing up with information.

“Honestly, word got around pretty fast about that game,” Necciai said last week when he was a guest speaker at the Good Guys luncheon, a monthly event organized by author Jim O’Brien and held at Atria’s restaurant in McMurray.

“I filled every minor league ballpark I pitched in after that game. If we were playing on the road, they came to see me get my brains beat out by the home team. If we were playing at home, they came to see me strike out everybody.”

Many newspaper outlets telephoned that night, and the day after the game, sure that wire service reports were incorrect, that Necciai probably finished with 17 strikeouts instead of 27. No, the callers were told; 27 was correct.

Necciai said he is amazed that people still remember his accomplishment.

“I get six to 10 cards or letters a week, about a card a day,” Necciai said. “I’ve received them from places like Germany, that don’t even have baseball.”

  • One of the primary reasons for the existence of independent baseball leagues, such as the Frontier League, is to give players who were overlooked by major league organizations during the amateur draft a chance to showcase their talents and prove they deserve a chance. Catching the eye of a scout can lead to an opportunity with an affiliated minor league team.

You have to wonder what more Wild Things relief pitcher James Meeker has to do to get his chance with a major league organization.

All Meeker, a hard-throwing righthander from Wexford, has done this year is begin the season by throwing 24 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Twenty-three times Meeker has been summoned from the bullpen, and all 23 times he exited the game without allowing a run, earned or unearned.

Have they been impressive innings? The 26-year-old North Allegheny High School and University of Delaware product has allowed only 10 hits and seven walks. He has struck out 34 batters. Opposing hitters have an anemic .127 batting average against Meeker.

Does he have the size that major league teams look for in pitchers? Meeker is listed at 6-4 and 215 pounds.

Does he throw hard enough? After all, for modern relief pitchers it’s more about velocity than anything else. Well, Meeker consistently throws his fastball at 93-94 mph and hits 95 on many nights.

But what about that age thing? Yes, major league teams don’t covet 26-year-old pitchers with no experience in affiliated ball, but with the dearth of pitching in today’s game, many teams should be willing to take a chance on a guy who has done everything asked of him at the Frontier League level, right?

  • One player who teams might be calling the Pirates about ahead of the trade deadline is utilityman Wilmer Difo.

A switch-hitter who can play multiple positions and has been on a World Series championship team, Washington, though he did not see much playing time in the postseason, should be an attractive low-cost pickup for any contender. Difo was batting .292 heading into the Pirates’ game Monday at Arizona.

If Pittsburgh trades Difo and gets anybody in return, it will be win for the Pirates. Earlier this year, Pittsburgh sent Difo to the minors and had to designate him for assignment, meaning that any club could have acquired him for nothing. All they had to do was make a waiver claim. Twenty-nine teams passed on Difo. Now, any team that is interested in him will have to give up a player.

  • The Olympic Games begin today and without the Soviet Union around, who do I root against?

Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

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