Sixty years ago today in the mountains of Virginia, Harry Dunlop, an 18-year-old minor league prospect out of Sacramento High School, became part of baseball history.
Dunlop was the catcher for 19-year-old Bristol Twins pitcher Ron Necciai, who struck out 27 batters in a 7-0 no-hit victory over the Welch Miners at Shaw Stadium in Bristol, Va.
Necciai remains the only professional pitcher to strike out 27 batters in a nine-inning game.
Now 78, Dunlop says the many stories that have been printed and told about that game have been embellished so much, sorting fact from fiction has become difficult for him.
"Almost every year some sportswriter somewhere calls Ron, and then me, and asks about that game," said Dunlop, who lives in Elk Grove following a 50-year career in baseball. "No matter how many times I tell the story, none of them ever gets it right."
Still, Dunlop says telling the story of Necciai's 27 strikeouts never gets old.
"We knew striking out that many batters was an accomplishment but never thought of it as anything more than that," Dunlop said of the feat. "We figured somebody must have done it before. We were kids. We didn't know any better."
One reason Necciai was in the minor leagues in 1952 was he suffered from such severe stomach ulcers that he was spitting up blood at the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training camp in San Bernardino.
Instead of pitching in Pittsburgh, the 6-foot-5 right-hander was sent on a medical rehabilitation assignment to the Appalachian League Class D, rock bottom in the minors.
Dunlop described Necciai as "short tempered," saying, "Every little thing bothered him. It didn't take much for that stomach of his to act up. He was what mama would call a worrywart."
Necciai, now 79, said being called a worrywart was kind.
"I worried about stuff that hadn't happened yet," he said from his spring home in Anna Maria Island, Fla.
Necciai's stomach was churning before his historic game, and he wasn't sure he could pitch. Bristol manager George Detore told his young pitcher to give it a shot and see how long he could go.
Necciai had five strikeouts through the first two innings. He was so overpowering that by the fourth inning, Welch batters began trying to bunt, looking just to put the ball in play.
By the sixth inning, fans began chanting with each strikeout 15, 16, 17. Oblivious to what was unfolding, Dunlop asked between innings what all the commotion was in the stands.
"I didn't know Ron was on his way to setting a record," Dunlop said. "I was concentrating on doing my job, and keeping track of strikeouts wasn't part of that job."
By the seventh inning, Necciai's ulcers burned so badly, Detore sent the ballboy to the mound with cottage cheese, milk and Banthine, a stomach medication.
"You've got to remember this was the 1950s, not yesterday," Necciai said. "That was pretty much the accepted treatment at that time."
Necciai started the ninth inning with 23 strikeouts. The first batter popped up a foul ball near the plate. According to local newspapers, while Dunlop circled under the ball, fans screamed for him to drop it. Another article said the first baseman told Dunlop to drop it. Dunlop didn't drop it. He never got his glove on the ball. It wasn't intentional, he said.
"No way in the world did I intentionally drop that ball," Dunlop said. "Why on earth would I ever let something like that happen? I was 18 years old and trying to prove I was a ballplayer.
"Besides, I'm not that smart. And, to set the record straight, no way was our first baseman or the fans yelling for me to drop it. I just flat missed it."
Play resumed, and Necciai registered his 24th and 25th strikeouts. The third batter also struck out, but the ball got past Dunlop, and the hitter reached base. There was suspicion that Dunlop let the ball pass on purpose. He insists otherwise.
"Ron wasn't easy to handle," Dunlop said. "His curveball was so good, and dropped so much, that many of them hit in the dirt before I could catch them."
The fourth batter struck out for number 27.
Despite the no-hitter, four Miners reached base on a walk, error, hit-batsman and passed ball.
Necciai finished the season with the Pirates, who lost 112 games that season. He was 1-6 with 31 strikeouts and a 7.08 ERA in 542/3 innings. He never pitched in the majors again.
Dunlop called Necciai a "bulldog," comparing him to later pitching stars Tom Seaver and Bruce Sutter. Necciai, though, said "I don't think I was that good. I never did and never will."
Following Necciai's gem, Dunlop caught back-to-back no-hitters in May by Bill Bell, who struck out 20 and 24 batters, respectively. Bell, who died in an auto accident in 1962, added a third no-hitter on Aug. 25 in a seven-inning game.
"I caught three no-hitters in my first 14 games and had more putouts than our team combined. I thought this pro game was going to be easy. It went pretty much downhill after that," Dunlop joked.
Dunlop spent 14 years as a minor league player, 13 years as a minor league manager, three years as a minor league field coordinator (1988-90) and 21 years as a major league coach with Kansas City (1969-75), the Chicago Cubs (1976), Cincinnati (1979-82, 1998-2000), San Diego (1983-87) and Florida (2005).
Dunlop recently released a book appropriately titled: "50 Years in a Kids Game" published by AuthorHouse.