"When I was first with the Cardinals, they didn't need a left-hand hitter. All they were seeing was left-hand pitchers and they were hurting for right-hand power Kurowski was gone and Moore had retired and Cooper was gone. They needed right-hand hitters. So they used Bilko and Nippy Jones most of the time. I didn't have much of a chance.
"Then, the next year, they put Musial at first and that was that. They traded me to Pittsburgh, and then I went to the White Sox and all I ever did at either place was pinch hit. You know that most batters can't get their timing down unless they're playing regular, and that's the way I am.
"So, finally the Dodgers bought me—and look what happened. I broke my leg. I never did get in shape that year, and a guy out of shape wasn't going to push Gil Hodges off of first base.
"The next chance I had was with the Indians in '54. That was a funny deal," and Rocky shakes his head. "They gave me the position in the spring, sure, but they didn't spend all that money just to find out if I could hit in the spring. They bought me because of the great season I had in Montreal in '53. I've never been a good hitter in the spring. I need to get to know the pitchers. Even in the minors, what little hitting I do in the spring, I do against pitchers I've seen before. I never hit the new ones right at first. And that's the way it was up there. Just about the time I was learning what they could throw, I was on the bench. And then I was back at Montreal."
It was a slightly different situation when he went up to Brooklyn, for the last time, in 1956. "I always get tired in June," Rocky says. "Most hitters get tired in August or September. Well, I get tired in June. After that I'm all right. It's funny but look at my record and see for yourself."
So he went up to Brooklyn, tired, and failed again. The only thing he did show was that he now had power. In six weeks with the Dodgers he hit approximately 87 home runs. The only trouble was that all but four of them were foul. "If they had just moved the foul pole over about 10 feet," one writer with the team recalls, "Rocky would have broken Ruth's record in a breeze."
"Yeah, that's right," Nelson agrees. "I was hitting 'em foul. And I'll tell you why. Like I said, I was tired. So I was pressing. And instead of letting my normal timing do the job, I tried to force the bat around with my hands. Everything went foul."
YOU HAVE TO KNOW HIM
Rocky's explanations of his roller coaster career are usually brushed aside as representing a minority opinion of one. But strangely enough, under questioning and sometimes with a slight trace of guilt, some rather sharp baseball men—including several of those same managers who gave up on him—will now admit that there is just a chance that he is right. Dixie Walker, the old Dodger hero and Rocky's current manager at Toronto, is one expert on the subject who is sure the other managers erred when they gave up on Rocky.
"I think that part of his trouble was that most managers he played for in the big leagues never really had time enough to understand him. Last year I didn't understand him myself. You never have to wonder where Rocky is. You can always hear him. He does talk a lot. In fact, he spouts off. But now I know him and, brother, I really appreciate him.