- August 5, 1943
- 5' 11"
- 195 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-19-1965 with SLN
Nellie Briles was more than just a pitcher, he was a singer, a comedian, an impersonator, and a broadcaster also, but primarily the 5’11, 200 pound hurler was a gutsy competitor who was one of the best control pitchers in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
St. Louis Cardinals
Briles first broke in with the Cards in 1965 and after an inauspicious start in which he went 7-18 in his first two seasons, took full advantage of the opportunity afforded him when he was put into the starting rotation after the great Bob Gibson broke his leg off a line drive by his soon to be teammate Roberto Clemente. Nellie went on to win 9 consecutive games, ending the season with a 14-5 mark. He came up big in the fall classic with a seven hit, 5-2 victory over the Red Sox in game 3. Briles would be the only starter other than Gibson, who had 3 victories, to win a game.
When the Cardinals repeated their National League Championship in 1968, Nellie had his best season ever going 19-11 with a 2.81 ERA.
After another couple more years in St Louis, Briles was sent packing to the Steel City along with pinch hitter extraordinaire, Vic Davalillo, for Matty Alou and George Brunet. While the Bucs would miss their former National League batting titlist in Alou, but were more than compensated as Briles was an important piece to the pitching staff that eventually took them to the Eastern Division championship and the n into the World Series.
The California native had a solid campaign, finishing 8-4 with 3.04 ERA as a part time starter and reliever, but it was his performance in game 5 of the fall classic that he will always be remembered for. The Bucs had just won games 3 and 4 to pull even with the Orioles in the series and manager Danny Murtaugh called on Briles to send them back to Baltimore with the lead. The 28-year-old pitcher did not disappoint as he completely dominated the birds, 2 hitting them in the 4-0 win. The one memory from every Pirate fan that recalls the game was the scene of Nellie falling on his face off the mound after several pitches. This was a constant thing throughout his career as Briles would throw hard and end up on the ground.
As his pitching career was budding, so was his new career as a singer. Nellie played several nightclubs and got to the point where he was starring in shows with such actresses as Kaye Ballard, which he did in Chicago. Nellie was so accomplished that he was invited to sing the National Anthem before game 4 of the 1973 World Series.
The multi talented hurler came off a fine 14-11 mark in 1972, which was a prelude to his best season as a Pirate in 1973. The Bucs were down after losing their beloved leader, Clemente in a tragic off-season plane accident, but Briles who relied on his smarts and good control, finished 14-13 with a 2.84 ERA.
End of career
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh and Nellie would part company after the season when he was traded to the Royals with Fernando Gonzalez for Ed Kirkpatrick, Kurt Bevacqua and a minor leaguer. Briles went through Kansas City, Texas and Baltimore before he hung them up in 1978 with 129 wins.
Post playing career
After he retired, Nellie became a broadcaster with the Bucs in 1979, for two seasons and eventually joined the front office in 1986 where he remains today as the Vice President of Corporate Projects. During his stay in the ‘Burgh, Briles also founded and currently runs the Pirate Alumni Association, one of the best of its kind in the majors.
All in all, he’s spent 22-years as a Pirate and is a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. What most people remember about the versatile pitcher though, is that scene that will always be fresh in our minds, his body prone falling to the ground as he helped give the club and the city a world championship.
Briles collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack in Orlando, Florida, while participating in the annual Pirates alumni golf tournament. He was 61.
* St. Louis Cardinals (1965-1970)
* Pittsburgh Pirates (1971-1973)
* Kansas City Royals (1974-1975)
* Texas Rangers (1976-1977)
* Baltimore Orioles (1977-1978)
Career highlights and awards
* Led NL in won-loss % in 1967 with .737
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