Rocky Nelson

Rocky Nelson

1B, OF, LF, RF
November 18, 1924
5' 10"
175 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-27-1949 with SLN

BR bullpenGlenn Richard "Rocky" Nelson (November 18, 1924 – October 31, 2006) was a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals (1949–51 and 1956), Pittsburgh Pirates (1951 and 1959–61), Chicago White Sox (1951), Brooklyn Dodgers (1952 and 1956) and Cleveland Indians (1954).

Nelson spent many seasons trapped in the minor leagues behind some of the game’s premiere players, but in his second go around with the Pirates made an impact better known players would have been proud of.

Nelson, a left-handed hitter, came up through the Cardinal organization at a time when the team was stocked with left-handed hitting.  He batted only .224 in 1949 and was sent back to the minors the next year.  A .418 average with 40 RBI’s in 48 games earned him another look, but he hit just .247 with four homeruns.  The next year, the Cardinals moved Stan Musial to first base and Nelson was traded to the Pirates.  He got off to a fast start, but his average ended up at .267 and he showed little power.  The Pirates waived him to the White Sox in September.

The Rock next went to Brooklyn.  “He was a good hitter,” Bobby Bragan commented about Nelson, “But he got stuck behind Gil Hodges and didn’t get to play much.”  He eventually was demoted to Montreal, got a try with the Cleveland Indians, but as usual didn’t hit in the spring and ended up bouncing back and forth between Brooklyn and Montreal again.  While Rocky put up great numbers in the minors, he failed to stick again with the Dodgers and hit poorly when the Cardinals gave him another chance.  After another big minor league season in 1958, this time with Toronto where he won the International League’s triple crown, Joe L. Brown drafted the 34-year-old veteran for the Pirates at the Winter Meetings, hoping that with his experience Nelson would finally be able to help a major league team off the bench.  Some criticized the move, noting Nelson’s previous failures and calling him “a AAA player.”  Nelson, who was known for his outgoing, talkative personality and his unusual batting stance, finally was able to take advantage of the situation.

Nelson hit .291 with six homeruns in 175 at bats in 1959, backing up Dick Stuart and Ted Kluszewski before Big Klu was traded late in the year.  Although he did not have outstanding range, Rocky showed good hands at first and hit .394 with 13 hits as a pinch hitter.  Truly a rock off the bench in 1960, Nelson hit .300 in 200 at bats with seven homers and 35 RBI’s.  His greatest day came on July 5.  He hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning off the Braves Carlton Willey to help tie the game and connected off Joey Jay in the tenth for the victory.  Forbes Field fans took to the clutch hitter and would chant, “Don’t knock the Rock” when he came to bat.

WikipediaDanny Murtaugh started Nelson in two World Series games, the first and the seventh.  He collected two hits in Game 1 and gave the Pirates an early 2-0 lead with a first inning homerun in Game 7, but almost was almost fitted for a pair of goat horns following a questionable defensive play in the ninth.  With the tying run at third in Gil McDougald and Mickey Mantle at first, Yogi Berra hit a hard grounder down the first base line.  Nelson grabbed the ball but instead of going for a 3-6-3 double play, stepped on first, erasing the force play and prepared to throw to second.  Mantle, sensing the play dove back to first surprising Nelson.  McDougald scored the tying run, but Rocky escaped infamy when Bill Mazeroski homered to win the Series in the bottom of the inning.

The Pirates magic of 1960 had run dry in 1961 and Nelson was one of the wizards who apparently had used up his spells.  He hit just .197 and turning 38 in November, was let go at the end of the season.

During all or parts of nine major league seasons, Nelson played in 620 games and had 1,394 at-bats, 186 runs scored, 347 hits, 61 doubles, 14 triples, 31 home runs, 173 RBI, 7 stolen bases, 130 walks, .249 batting average, .317 on-base percentage, .379 slugging percentage, 529 total bases, 11 sacrifice hits, 8 sacrifice flies and 13 intentional walks. But as a minor leaguer, Nelson amassed 1,604 hits, 308 doubles, 81 triples, 234 home runs, 1,009 runs batted in, and batted .319, with 87 stolen bases. He retired after the 1961 season.

Nelson died at age 81 in 2006 in his native city of Portsmouth.

The Inside-The-Glove Home Run

On April 30, 1949, the Cardinals were trailing the Cubs, 3-2, in the top of the ninth inning in Wrigley Field. With two outs and a runner on first base, Nelson hit a sinking flyball to center field. Cub center fielder Andy Pafko came in on the ball and made an apparent game-ending catch. But second base upmire Al Barlick ruled that Pafko had trapped the ball. Pafko and Barlick argued the play, while Nelson rounded the bases for a two-run inside-the-park home run that gave St. Louis a 4-3 lead. By the time the enraged Pafko realized that Rocky was going home, his throw was too late, bouncing off Nelson as he slid safely into the plate. The Cubs lost the game.

Nine Other Players Who Debuted in 1949

Monte Irvin
Minnie Minoso
Roy Sievers
Smoky Burgess
Del Crandall
Bobby Avila
Walt Dropo
Don Newcombe
Morrie Martin

Post-Season Appearances

1952 World Series
1960 World Series

Best Strength as a Player

The ability to hit minor league pitching.

Largest Weakness as a Player

The inability to hit major league pitching.

Career highlights and awards

    * 1960 World Series Championship
    * Participated in the 1952 World Series


    * St. Louis Cardinals (1949–1951; 1956)
    * Pittsburgh Pirates (1951; 1959–1961)
    * Chicago White Sox (1951)
    * Brooklyn Dodgers (1952; 1956)
    * Cleveland Indians (1954)
Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia

1960 World Series, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Inside-the-park home run, Pittsburgh Pirates, Rocky Nelson, St. Louis Cardinals, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia
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