Nellie King has really put a lot into this book about his days in and not in baseball. There are the fun stories of baseball players you expect out of a book by a former player, but there is a lot more to it too.
When I started to read the book, it had a familiarity to me. I couldn't quit place it, but the style seemed to remind me of another book I had read.
Then it hit me. Mark Twain. I know, that might seem odd at first but think about it. With Mark Twain, you get fun honest stories with a bit of wisdom. You get common sense pieces of advice that sound brilliant when phrased by Clemens. King has that touch too. There are a few quotes that really got me in the book. Here is a good one:
"Those who berate government assistance programs never experienced those terribly difficult years of want, fear, and humiliation. The benefits we now enjoy are taken for granted, as if they were always part of our lives. To use a baseball metaphor, too many people in this country have been born on third base, yet think they've hit a triple! As a nation and people, we have become increasingly more arrogant and less tolerant of the less fortunate."
Nellie talks about being a young child, and dealing with the death of his father, and really not being able to take in the whole experience. As a little kid, he was terrified at his dad's funeral when his mom put him in the uncomfortable situation of telling him to kiss his father goodbye. This was a very frightening experience for him.
He also had to deal with his mom sending him to an orphanage. He talks about being tested and finally being left at a boys home in Hershey. King does a great job of describing this traumatic experience including how he felt knowing his family left him without saying bye.
Things do look up for Nellie. He does get a baseball contract. He hangs out in several minor league towns learning how to improve his game from the veterans. He even develops a comedy routine acting like an inexperienced rookie pitcher. I would love to see video (that obviously doesn't exist) of the tall, skinny King jumping around, pretending to be scared of the ball!
Nellie takes time out of his baseball career to serve his country in the military. Luckily, it is discovered that he can type, so he gets a good gig as a typist. He plays baseball for the service too.
I guess I didn't realize this, but some of the minor league teams in the 50s passed down their uniforms. When Nellie originally signed to play in the minors for the Cardinals, he noticed "Slaughter" written on the shirttail. He was assigned Enos Slaughters old jersey!
Nellie finally makes it to the majors, but spends some time going back and forth with the minor league team too. He gets married, plays baseball, and seems to have a generally good time.
He finally gets cut form the Pirates, and decides to retire from baseball. It is so interesting to hear about the careers Nellie tries, and his struggles, before getting back in baseball through radio.
Nellie gives a great recount of game seven of the 1960 World Series. He also talks about the games in 1971 and 1979.
Oddly, reading about Nellie's involvement and eventual release from radio is very fascinating. It is just as interesting as reading about his actual playing career. I love reading about how the old away games were recreated for the local audience.
Nellie gives a good bit of his book to discussing Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell. I love hearing about both. I especially love reading about how Clemente handled the press talking about other players behind their backs.
King talks very openly about his own health concerns later in life, giving a very honest account of some of his struggles over the last few years.
With that honesty about his health, Nellie Kings gives a very full picture of his unique and accomplished life. From his days at the orphanage in Hersey during the 30s, through his playing career in the 50s, up through his radio career that lasted up until recently, this is a fun read for any Pirates or baseball fan. With his connections to the great Pirates teams and players, he really makes this a great book.
Nellie wasn't a huge star on the field himself. He gives the reader a vivid image of kid growing up during hard economic times and making it to the Big Leagues. His times were different from the times we know now. He grew up in very desperate decades (he was born in 1928) and he played ball at a time when playing didn't mean you could buy a nice house and retire after your playing career ended. Nellie King's story is a happy yet humble one. Nellie makes the most of all of his situations, and seems happy with every situation he finds himself in. Even as he is dealing with his health concerns, he expresses hope about his future, and he seems appreciative of his family.
This isn't a book about a superstar and his excessive lifestyle. No million dollar contract will be discussed. Nellie doesn't talk about sports cars and mansions.
He does talk about meeting his wife, and their long marriage. He talks about his family. He writes about his baseball and radio career. Whatever happens, he seems happy with it.
I personally admire the city of Pittsburgh, as an outsider, but I have an appreciation of how the city always seems optimistic, and supportive of their teams. It is great reading about Nellie King and his relationship to the city, and the sports fans in Pittsburgh.