Rocky, in some ways, is the Ted Williams of the minor leagues. A dedicated student of hitting, he has the rare knack of self-analysis and through constant experimentation changed himself, five years ago, from a line-drive spray hitter into a dangerous home run threat. To accomplish this, he adopted The Stance. The result is one of the most absurd-looking postures ever achieved by a modern ballplayer.
First, Rocky places all of his weight firmly upon his left, or back foot and then bends his knee as if he were of half a mind to sit down alongside home plate. He extends his right foot straight out ahead, the toe pointing directly at the pitcher. Then he lifts his chin into the air and gazes, with a defiant sneer upon his lips, at the enemy. No more imperious gesture has been seen in baseball since that day in Mudville when the mighty Casey struck out.
Absurd or not, The Stance achieved for Rocky what he hoped it would. It moved his hips around where he could pull the inside pitch, and he began to hit home runs.
Then why isn't Rocky Nelson in the big leagues?
Well, one theory holds that he wanted to be there too much. Perhaps this is the easy way out, but most baseball men who have given the matter real thought figure that Nelson's troubles are not physical but psychological. Rocky, they say, wanted to be a big leaguer so much that he tightened up every time he had the chance. He didn't quit. He simply tried too hard.
"Rocky talked a lot," says Al Lopez now, remembering the spring he had Nelson at Cleveland, "and he gave the appearance of being non-chalant. But I think part of this was just a cover-up. Inside he must have been burning."
"You should have seen him that spring," says Red Kress, one of the Cleveland coaches. "He was tighter than a drum. Just plain nervous. He looked terrible; he couldn't even catch the ball. And at the plate, it wasn't some particular pitch that he couldn't hit. He couldn't hit strikes."
"It was a complex of some kind," believes Fresco Thompson of the Dodgers. "Rocky looked just as bad for us as he looked good down in the minors."
The one remaining theory is the one that Rocky subscribes to himself. In fact, he practically invented it. "Not once," he says, "did I get a real good chance."