Glenn 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).
A native of Portsmouth, Ohio, Nelson batted and threw left-handed. Despite pre-1959 stints with five major league clubs, Nelson failed to stick with a major league team for half a season. Reggie Otero, manager of the Havana Sugar Kings, saw Nelson clobber major league pitchers while playing winter baseball in Cuba. It was Otero’s view that Nelson needed a major league manager that would show patience toward him.
He was regarded as one of the best sluggers to ever play in the International League. As a rookie in 1948, he helped the Rochester Red Wings qualify for the Governors' Cup playoffs. From 1953 to 1955, while playing for the Montreal Royals, Nelson led the International League once in batting average (1955), twice in home runs (1954, 1955), and twice in RBIs (1953 and 1955). He would win his first Triple Crown in 1955 and was the International League Most Valuable Player Award winner in 1953 and 1955. His performances were a topic of conversation among many managers of the time. They were baffled as to how to pitch to him, and even more mystified that he was still playing in the minor leagues.
Although Nelson finally caught on in the majors, he had to endure two more failed tryouts with the Dodgers and the Cardinals, plus one more stint in the International League. In 1957, he would sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, whose owner, Jack Kent Cooke boasted that “…whatever is worth buying in the pitching or power line will find its way to Toronto.” In 1958, Nelson was voted International League most valuable player after winning the triple crown, leading the league in batting average (.326), home runs (43) and RBIs (120) while playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was later inducted into the International League Hall of Fame and into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
In 1959, Nelson would catch on with the Pittsburgh Pirates. From 1959 to 1961, Nelson was a platoon first baseman, playing behind right-handed slugger Dick Stuart. He wound up with two seasons of .291 and .300 batting averages, but never duplicated his success in Triple-A. Despite these shortcomings, Nelson would have some memorable moments with the Pirates. He was the first baseman in May 1959 when Harvey Haddix lost his perfect game bid in the 13th inning.
Nelson would also make an appearance in the 1960 World Series, where he belted a two-run home run off pitcher Bob Turley in the first inning of the seventh game. Not as dramatic as teammate Bill Mazeroski’s Home Run in the same game to win the 1960 World Series, Nelson had the privilege of playing for a world champion.
As a major leaguer, he helped the Dodgers win the 1952 and 1956 National League Pennants, the Indians win the 1954 American League Pennant and the Pirates win the 1960 World Series.
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.
His Baseball card was featured in the 1993 Movie "Deception" starring Andie MacDowell and Viggo Mortensen.
Nelson died at age 81 in 2006 in his native city of Portsmouth.
By Dean Hanley
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