Former Bucs pitcher, broadcaster King dies
Played parts of four seasons, teamed with Prince on air
SAN DIEGO -- Known perhaps more for his voice than his arm, former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster Nellie King died on Wednesday at the age of 82 after several years of declining health, including battles with colon cancer and pneumonia.
"All of us at the Pittsburgh Pirates are deeply saddened by the passing of a long-time member of our Pirates family, Nellie King," said Pirates president Frank Coonelly in a statement. "Nellie, one of the best storytellers you will ever meet, was a proud man who always carried himself with class. ... He was an active member of the Pirates Alumni Group, where he consistently donated his time and energy to help support the many local charities the group supports. Nellie was also a strong supporter of the Boys & Girls Club in the Pittsburgh region, assisting in making a difference in the lives of so many young people in our area."
The 6-foot-6 King came up with the Pirates in 1954 at age 26, appearing in four games. He pitched in 95 games with Pittsburgh, all but four in relief, in a career that ended after the 1957 season. His best seasons were 1955-56, when he made 55 appearances, saved five games and tossed 114 1/3 innings with a 3.07 ERA. King went 7-5 with a 3.58 ERA in his career.
But it was King's post-playing career that he will be most remembered for in Pittsburgh. The Hershey, Pa., native became a broadcaster in the city's suburbs following his playing career. In 1967, he was hired to work with Bob Prince and Jim Woods on Pirates broadcasts. Woods left for St. Louis in 1970, leaving Prince and King to work as partners until 1975.
"He was very good without having to make a lot of noise," said current Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass, who pitched for the Pirates during King's tenure as a team announcer. "He was a very classy guy. I'm happy we crossed paths. Our friendship was strong."
Prince was ousted from the booth that year, leading to King's firing as well. It was an unpopular move among Pirates fans, with approximately 15,000 assembling for a downtown parade that urged the Pirates to return the duo to the booth. King never did come back on a full-time basis, while Prince came back for a brief stint in 1985 prior to his death.
That wasn't to say, though, that King's legacy was lost on those who followed him in the Pirates' broadcast booth.
"He taught me a lot about interviewing because he could get people somehow, someway to tell how they felt instead of just talking about a curveball or slider or something," Blass said. "He was gifted in that area. He was a great friend. Over the course of a life, you run across a lot of people, and I'm glad I ran across him."
Added Pirates play-by-play announcer Greg Brown: "He counseled me. He was a great source. One of my fondest memories of him, which was an absolute thrill, was they decided to bring him into the booth for the last game at Three Rivers Stadium. He was on TV with Blass and me the very last game. That was really cool."
King's broadcasting career didn't end with the Pirates, however. He worked for 24 seasons with Ray Goss calling Duquesne basketball games. He was the university's sports information director and golf coach as well. He worked for Duquesne from 1975-92.
A year ago, King's book, "Happiness is Like a Cur Dog," was published. The title came from an expression used by Pirates general manager Branch Rickey. The book largely discussed King's playing days.