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Nellie Briles

February 14, 2005. To the family of Nellie Briles and to his many friends, our deepest sympathy. On the two or three occasions I had the chance to speak with Mr. Briles, I could feel his warmth and love for baseball come right through the telephone. Below is an article written in May, 2002...Howard Cole, Editor, BaseballSavvy.com.

"You've probably heard it from other players, but the biggest initial thrill was the realization of a boyhood dream, and that was when you put on the major league uniform for the first time, knowing that you had finally arrived. Not only my dream, but the dream that my family had as well."

"When you start out dreaming of being a major league player as an eight year old, and you watch the Games of the Week…then years pass and you're in the same position as the players you followed long ago."

"And of course after that, everyone always dreams of playing in the World Series, and not only playing, but winning a World Series, and hoping that you would have an opportunity to contribute in some way to that World Championship team.

Game three, in '67, I won the only game that Bob Gibson didn't. That's the big trivia question and answer…that was also the year that I was established as a bonafide major league pitcher…Bob Gibson's leg was broken by a line drive off Roberto Clemente's bat and I was asked to fill his shoes. And when you're 23 years old for Pete's sake, those are pretty big shoes to fill.

Of course, everybody said the Cardinals' pennant hopes just went down the drain. While I was throwing well, the press said that 'nobody could fill those shoes,' and when I lost the first game, they said 'see see see.' Then I won nine in row."

Pitching primarily for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates during a career that ran from 1965 to 1978, Nellie Briles won 129 games, with a lifetime ERA of 3.43.

And fill in for Bob Gibson he did. In 1967, Briles led the National League with a .737 winning percentage, going 14-5, with a 2.43 ERA. He improved on those numbers the next season, with a 19-11 mark, a career high 13 complete games, and an ERA of 2.81.

"To throw a complete game win against Boston in game three, that's something that I will never forget. '68, the disappointment of losing the Series when we were up three games to one, a team loss, is also something that I won't forget."

Briles began a broadcasting career almost immediately after retiring, returning to Pittsburgh to do part-time television analysis for the Pirates. Next he turned to the Game of the Week for the USA Cable Network, from '81-83, and then a three-year stint with the Seattle Mariners. The Harold Reynolds, Alvin Davis, Mark Langston Mariners.

Throughout that time, Briles also worked full-time in the building and renovation industry, as a management executive with Pittsburgh-based wholesale distributor Jones and Brown, Inc.

He became a full-time Buc for keeps in 1986, starting as Director of Corporate Sales, and is now Vice President of Corporate Projects. Briles' duties include consulting with the marketing and public relations departments, and running both the team's fantasy camp and alumni association.

Briles also manages the Pirates' speakers bureau, a team comprised of players such as Elroy Face, Bob Friend, Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat, Steve Blass, Dave Gusti, Bob Robertson, Manny Sanguillen, Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson, John Candelaria, and Briles himself.

The Pittsburgh Pirates Alumni Association is more than just a pet project for Briles, and he speaks proudly about what it has been able to accomplish:

"There are approximately 700 living former Pirates in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, but here in Western Pennsylvania, we have about 40 that comprise our local chapter, which is highly active. It's an all-volunteer organization. We raise our own money and give it all away by the end of the year. Our annual golf tournament has raised over a million dollars in net proceeds over a 17-year period, and supports our local charities in Western Pennsylvania, mainly involving children."

He's also very proud of Pirates' new stadium: "It's everything you'd hope for. If you were to try to sit down and design your own ballpark, I think you would try to design exactly what we have here in PNC Park. It's small, it's intimate, with great sitelines. There are no gimmicks or anything else. Grass field, with an incredible view over the center field wall to the skyline of downtown Pittsburgh. It's just pure major league baseball."

For Nellie Briles, it's definitely about where he is now. He's genuinely glad to be there, right there. But quite clearly, with the October memories as bright as they are still, it's also very much about where he was then:

"If I were to look at one shining moment, when absolutely everything came together, and you've pitched as well as you can possibly pitch, it was the fifth game of the '71 World Series.

The good Lord certainly smiled on me that day. When you have command of all your pitches, when you have focus and concentration and discipline, and everything is coming together, you're staked to an early two-run lead, get a base hit to drive in one of those runs, that's something very special.

To throw a two-hitter, to pitch to only 29 men, with nobody getting past first base, and as I was told by many writers, other than the perfect game by Don Larsen, it was the finest game they ever saw pitched in the World Series. That is something of which I'm very proud."


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Copyright © 2005 by BaseballSavvy.com.