Rocky Nelson

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Glenn Richard Nelson

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Biographical Information[edit]

Rocky Nelson, who played nine seasons in the majors, was a perennial minor league star first baseman who played in 13 full or part minor league years. Nelson broke in with the Johnson City Cardinals in 1942. He then spent three years, 1943-1945, in the United States military during World War II. It would be three more years in the minors before getting his first chance in the majors. Rocky, who was married at home plate at Lynchburg, VA when he was playing in the Piedmont League in 1947, was the first non-Canadian ever elected into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

He played in the majors for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox, Brooklyn Dodgers and Cleveland Indians from 1949 to 1956, but was an International League superstar during the decade. While with Brooklyn in 1952 he was used mainly as a left-handed hitting pinch hitter and took part in three games in that capacity against the New York Yankees in the 1952 World Series.

A three time MVP award winner in the International League in 1953, 1955 and 1958, he hit well over .300 all three years with 34 home runs and 136 RBIs in 1953, 37 and 130 in 1955 with the Montreal Royals and 43 and 120 in 1958 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Following his impressive 1958 season in AAA Toronto, he was drafted by the Pirates in the 1958 Rule V draft at age 34.

With the Pirates in 1959, Nelson was again a pinch-hitter and back-up first baseman. He responded by batting .291 with 6 home runs and 32 RBIs in 175 at-bats. He began the 1960 season in the same role. He started only 2 of the Pirates' first 36 games that season, but in late May, with starting first baseman Dick Stuart slumping, Nelson started six of eight games and hit safely in each. Soon, Nelson and Stuart were sharing the cleanup spot in the batting order in a platoon at first base. Rocky hit .300 during the regular season with 7 home runs and 35 RBIs in 200 at-bats. The 7 homers tied his major league high and the 35 RBIs established his new major league high.

Nelson started Game 2 of the 1960 World Series and had 2 singles against the New York Yankees' Bob Turley. But Stuart, who led the Pirates in home runs that year, started games 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. With the series tied at 3 wins apiece and Stuart struggling with just 3 singles in 20 at-bats and no RBIs, manager Danny Murtaugh started Nelson at first base in Game 7, as the Yankees again started Turley. Nelson responded with a two-run home run in the 1st inning to stake the Pirates to an early lead. But he was also involved in a strange play that allowed the Yankees to tie the game 9-9 in the top of the 9th inning of that game. With the Pirates leading 9-8, Yogi Berra at bat, Gil McDougald on third base and Mickey Mantle on first, Berra hit a hard shot at Nelson. Nelson fielded the ball inches from first base and stepped on the bag for the second out as McDougald raced for the plate with the tying run. Mantle, with a short lead off first base, hesitated when the ball was hit, possibly unsure if Nelson caught it in the air. But although the ball had not been caught in the air, Mantle was not forced to advance to second base because Nelson had already eliminated the force when he stepped on the first base bag. Nelson turned to throw to second base, expecting Mantle to be advancing. But Mantle dove back toward first base. Nelson then dove at Mantle and missed. With both players sprawled on the ground and Mantle safely back at first base, McDougald scored the tying run to make the score 9-9. However, that changed quickly when Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the 9th inning with a home run against Ralph Terry to win the game, 10-9, and give the Pirates the championship. Stuart, who was on deck to pinch-hit for winning pitcher Harvey Haddix, did not appear in the game. At age 35, Nelson had his finest season in the majors and finished it by homering as the cleanup hitter in a championship game. Nelson hit .333 (3 for 9) in the World Series.

In 1960 he was elected to the International League Hall of Fame. The legendary minor league slugger clubbed 234 homers in his minor league career. After one more season with the Pirates in 1961, he finished his major league career with a lifetime .249 average and 31 career home runs. Plus one very big home run in the World Series.

He spent the 1962 season with the Denver Bears and Toronto Maple Leafs and chose to retire to his hometown of Portsmouth, OH where he was in the insurance business and owned a steak-house.

Rocky Nelson died on October 31, 2006 in Portsmouth, OH

Notable Achievements[edit]


Further Reading[edit]

  • David L. Fleitz: "Rocky Nelson", in Clifton Blue Parker and Bill Nowlin, ed.: Sweet '60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2013, pp. 157-160. ISBN 978-1-93359-948-9

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