If you ask a number of baseball fans to think of a slugger nicknamed Rocky, most of them will name Rocco Domenico Colavito, who hit most of his 374 major league homers with the Indians and Tigers. Not likely to be mentioned would be Everett Lamar Bridges who, as a utility infielder for seven teams over a ten year period, hit only sixteen major league dingers. Even less likely to make the list would be Glenn Richard Nelson, who spent most of his playing days earning his keep in the minors.
But to those who watched him terrorize International League pitchers during the 1950's, Rocky Nelson was a slugger of the first rank and a mystery to those who saw one major league team after another invite him to spring training and cut him before the calendar turned to May. The Cardinals, Pirates, White Sox, Dodgers, Indians, Dodgers again, and Cardinals again gave Rocky his walking papers before the Pirates tried again in 1959 and kept him as Dick Stuart's platoon partner for three seasons.
Breaking in as a 17-year old rookie with Johnson City in the Appalachian League in 1942, Rocky played fifty-three games as a first baseman-pitcher and failed to hit a home run while batting .253. After three years in military service, he returned in 1946 to begin his climb through the Cardinals' farm system. After leading the Piedmont League with a .371 batting average in 1947, he spent 1948 with Rochester, batting .303 against International League pitchers.
The Cardinals of the late 1940's found first base to be an unsettled position as they rotated Stan Musial, Nippy Jones, Dick Sisler, and Steve Bilko in and out on a yearly basis. Rocky was given the job in 1949, but he squandered the opportunity with a .221 average and only four homers in 244 at bats. After another unproductive chance the following season, he spent 1951 with the Cardinals, Pirates, and White Sox, who released him to the Dodgers' Montreal farm team after the season ended.
A broken ankle cost Rocky most of 1952, but his days of dominating the International League had begun and the following three and one-half seasons saw him earn two MVP's and lead the league in batting once, in home runs twice, and in RBI's twice. For those seasons, his numbers show a .334 batting average with 111 homers and 397 RBI's. Once more the majors called and once more Rocky failed as he split 1956 between the Dodgers and Cardinals with little success. Released once more by the Cardinals, another trip to the International League, this time to Toronto, brought additional laurels. A successful 1957 season was followed by one more MVP along with a triple crown in 1958.
Two weeks after his 34th birthday, Rocky was drafted by the Pirates, and finally fortune smiled on him at the major league level. Three seasons of platooning at first base and pinch-hitting brought him the recognition he was denied earlier, and his acclaim grew as he hit his only World Series home run during the Pirates memorable seventh game defeat of the Yankees in 1960.
At age 38, age caught up with the Rock, and his professional career ended as he split 1962 between the Denver Bears and, appropriately, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League.
The unusual batting stance Rocky used served him well. A left-handed hitter, his peek-a-boo stance somewhat resembled that of Stan Musial, but his right foot was planted at a 90 degree angle to the left foot as it pointed directly at the pitcher. Not a large man for a slugger, he stood 5' 11" and his weight grew from 170 pounds early in his career to the 190's.
By the time he retired to his native Portsmouth, Ohio, Glenn Nelson's major league career showed an unspectacular .246 batting average with 31 homers over 620 games. But what he did during his days in the minors - a .319 batting average, 234 home runs, three MVP's, three batting championships, all while averaging just under 35 strikeouts per season - make Rocky Nelson a legend of the International League and of all minor league baseball.