Fireworks in the Steel City
With the Pittsburgh Pirates resurgence this summer, I’m reminded of one of the most abysmal pitching performances I’ve ever come across in all my years as a baseball fan. Unfortunately, it happened to my grandfather, Nelson Greene, in the only game he ever pitched in the Steel City.
It’s difficult to imagine any modern day manager allowing a pitcher to absorb the kind of beating Nelson took that day so many years ago. On June 20, 1925, Nelson’s team, the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers), were at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field to take on the Pirates. That season the Pirates were loaded offensively, with future Hall of Famers Max Carey, Kiki Cuyler and Pie Traynor anchoring a lineup that eventually propelled the Pirates to a World Series victory over the Washington Nationals. For their part, the Robins’ lineup featured future Hall of Famer Zack Wheat batting third, and powerful cleanup hitter, Jack Fournier. On this day, however, the Robins’ hitters were no match for Pittsburgh’s offensive explosion.
After Brooklyn scored a run in the top of the first to take a 1-0 lead, left-hander Jesse Petty took the mound for the Robins, and the Pirates’ demolition immediately began. Of the seven batters he faced, Petty was able to record just two outs, while allowing four hits and four earned runs; the biggest blast was Cuyler’s two-run homer. Having seen enough, manager Wilbert Robinson then replaced Petty with veteran right-hander Wilbert Hubbell, and he fared litle better, allowing three hits and two more runs while also recording just two outs. So, with one out in the bottom of the second, Robinson called on the young left-hander Greene to make his twelfth career appearance, and, as the press later related, it was as if Nelson were being “led to the slaughter.”
I’ve tried several times to piece together just how things transpired once Nelson took the mound that day, but have not been quite successful. Suffice it to say, the Pirates bombarded him. Among the 18 hits and 15 earned runs he allowed over the final 6 2/3 innings, Nelson gave up a two-run homer to Glenn Wright in the fifth, a grand slam to Cuyler in the sixth, and a two-run homer to Max Carey in the seventh. Additionally, he issued two wild pitches and also committed a balk. When the game was ended, the Pirates had won, 21-5, as they finished the day with 25 hits against the three Robins’ pitchers. As a result of that performance, Nelson’s season ERA had ballooned to 11.44.
I’m sure the Robins couldn’t get out of Pittsburgh fast enough.
I’ve always been impressed that Nelson pitched in the major leagues, regardless of the outcome. It may seem strange, but I think it’s the coolest thing that of the five career home runs he allowed, four were to future Hall of Famers: Travis Jackson; Kiki Cuyler; Max Carey; and Edd Roush. Heck, if you’re going to let ‘em hit it far, you might as well get hit by the best in the business.
In the end, everything eventually worked out well for Nelson. Once his playing days were done he went on to a career in the Army Corps of Engineers and served as the Construction Chief of the Berlin Military Post during the Berlin Airlift. In that capacity he was responsible for overseeing the construction of the runways used by the Allies to deliver supplies to the millions of Berliners trapped behind the Soviet blockade. For his performance, Nelson was awarded an Army Commendation medal “in recognitiion of his exceptionally meritorious service.”
That was far more heroic than anything he could ever have accomplished on the mound.
*To learn more about Nelsonâ€™s career read his bio at SABRâ€™s Biography Project. Also, join Chip and his partner Ted Leavengood each Friday evening for â€œOutta the Parkway,â€ a presentation of the Seamheads National Podcasting Network.