File this story in the "I bet you didn't know" category.
Can you believe there was a pitcher who threw a no-hitter and struck out all 27 batters he faced in a single game?
It happened in 1952.
The pitcher's name was Ron Necciai.
There was nothing to indicate the incredible moment was coming. He had control problems that season – 129 walks in 139 innings pitched. The Pittsburgh Pirates organization felt Necciai was still young and not worth giving up on. Sports reporters had coined him with the nickname "Rocket Ron" because of his blazing fastball.
Necciai was invited to the Pirates spring training in San Bernardino, CA in 1952, but stomach ulcer problems, something he'd dealt with his entire life, were becoming a big issue. He went to see a doctor, was off for some time, and then Rickey -- taking into consideration his starter's health issues -- asked him where he felt comfortable playing that season. Necciai landed in the Appalachian League in Bristol, Va.
Necciai suddenly caught fire. He struck out 20 batters in his debut, while only walking four. He struck out 19 in another game, and whiffed 11 of 12 in a relief role three days later.
Still, as much as he was accomplishing on the field, Necciai was struggling mightily with his stomach. Even the night leading into his historic May 13 start (and, frankly, most of that day), he had pains running up and down his gut.
"I was taking all kinds of medications for cramps in my stomach," Necciai said. "My stomach was bothering me that night, believe it or not."
So, while swallowing some weird black pills, chugging milk in between innings and dealing with intense abdominal pain, Necciai pitched that May night like he was from another planet. The Welch Miners mustered a walk, a HBP and reached on a dropped-third strike and error, but went down on strikes a record 27 times. The previous mark had been 25.
There wasno count back then, but Necciai must've thrown close to 200 pitches, and also confirmed his batterymate's wild side was still very much part of the epic performance.
Necciai apparently hit the first batter in the fourth, then the error happened in the ninth -- as did the dropped-third strike, which gave Necciai the opportunity to strike out four in the final frame and get to 27. Welch batters were reportedly bunting at balls in the latter innings, but still somehow missing pitches.
As far as Dunlop realizing that history was happening, he says he did figure it out in the sixth or seventh inning when the crowd started counting from the stands.
"Hey, he's striking out every guy," the catcher remembered thinking. "I said, 'Oh my god.' I really didn't realize it. He'd gone so deep into so many counts and all I was thinking about was doing the job and getting my pitcher through the game."
But nobody told Necciai, maybe afraid he'd lose his focus.
The press descended on the teenager the next morning, but it definitely wasn't as big a story as it might be today.
"No big deal," Necciai told me. "It was in the Minor Leagues, you know."
And then, in his very next start, Necciai struck out 24 in nine innings. 51 strikeouts in two games (you may recall Jacob deGrom's recent MLB record of 50 in four games). That's 25 1/2 K's per nine.
After that start (and after striking out 109 hitters in 43 innings), Necciai was called up to the Carolina League, where he continued to decimate batters. He struck out a league-high 176 hitters in just two months.
"Did real well there," Necciai said, finally, kind of, crediting himself with being a good pitcher. "Led the league in strikeouts, earned run average. I made the All-Star team, I don't know why."
Finally, in August of '52, he was called up to the big leagues. The 20-year-old quickly found out the difference between the Major and Minor Leagues. Hitters were much more patient and aware of the strike zone. The rookie went 1-6 with a 7.08 ERA, while putting up 31 strikeouts and 32 walks. He made his debut at hallowed Wrigley Field.
"When I could throw strikes, I got them out. When I walked them, it was catastrophe," Necciai said. "First day against the Cubs, I got bombed. ... You can't walk the world in the big leagues."
After that summer, Necciai was drafted to fight in the Korean War, but was quickly discharged because of his ulcer problems. While trying to get back into baseball shape, he tore his rotator cuff and lost that fireballing bite on his fastball. He pitched another season in the Minors in '55, but the injury was too much to keep going.
"I couldn't stand the pain," Necciai said. "And if I hit you between the eyes, you'd think a mosquito bit you or something."
So, at 23 years old, and a once bright baseball future already fading from view, a doctor gave him some advice he'll never forget.
"Son, go home, go buy a gas station. You're never gonna pitch again."
Necciai did go home, but instead got into the sporting goods business -- and was pretty successful. Talking with him now, he doesn't seem to have many regrets. He pitched one of the greatest games ever recorded on a baseball diamond and, unlike the majority of prospects, he realized his big league dreams.
"It's what every kid wants to do," Necciai told me. "I won one game, I had one base hit and drove in one run. ... I did it all. And nobody was more surprised in the ballpark than I was."