Dave Nelson, a speedy infielder who was one of two Texas Rangers players on the 1973 American League All-Star team, has died. Nelson was 73. In recent years, Nelson was a television broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers, who said in a statement released today that Nelson had been battling a long illness.
Nelson, who was traded to the Washington Senators from the Cleveland Indians in 1970, was among the original Texas Rangers when the franchise relocated to Arlington in 1972. Playing third base, Nelson stole a career-high 51 bases that season, just one fewer than league-leading Bert Campaneris of the Oakland Atheltics.
Nelson had his best overall year in 1973, during which he shifted to second base and batted .286 while accumulating 43 steals. Although Nelson finished a distant 33rd in the 1973 A.L. Most Valuable Player voting, he was the first Ranger to receive votes in MVP balloting.
Nelson remained the starting second baseman during the 1974 season, which was the first winning campaign in team history. Under the management of Billy Martin, the “Turnaround Gang” improved on the 1973 season’s record of 57-105 by posting an 84-76 mark, good for second place in the A.L. West behind eventual World Champion Oakland.
Martin once compared Nelson to Jackie Robinson.
“More than anyone else, he reminds me of Jackie Robinson,” Martin said in a 1974 interview distributed by the Associated Press. “Why? Because of his aggressiveness, his speed and his enormous pride."
On Aug. 30, 1974, Nelson became the 42nd player in Major League Baseball history to steal second base, third base and home plate in the same game. With the Rangers hosting the Indians at Arlington Stadium, Nelson led off the home half of the first with a walk, and proceeded to round the bases by stealing on the Cleveland battery of pitcher Dick Bosman and catcher Dave Duncan.
Nelson remained in Texas through the 1975 season, after which he was traded to the Kansas City Royals for veteran starting pitcher Nellie Briles. Nelson played two seasons with the Royals before retiring.
After playing, Nelson coached for Texas Christian University, the Chicago White Sox, the Montreal Expos, the Cleveland Indians, and Milwaukee Brewers. Nelson also worked as a broadcaster for the Royals, the Chicago Cubs, the Indians, and, most recently, the Brewers.
Although Nelson achieved popularity as a pregame analyst for Fox Sports Wisconsin, Nelson did not always have a professional interest in sports journalism. “The only reason you’re a sportswriter,” Nelson told Rangers beat writer Mike Shropshire in 1973, “is because you’re too d--- stupid to operate a forklift.” The anecdote was mentioned in Shropshire's 1996 book Seasons in Hell.
Nelson also served on the board of directors for Open Arms Home for Children, a non-profit organization that provides homes to orphaned children in South Africa. The Brewers organization has suggested that those wishing to honor Nelson do so by making donations to that organization.
"Davey took every opportunity to turn a casual introduction into a lifelong relationship, and his legacy will live on in the positive impact he had on the lives of so many people," said Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger. "Davey's love of life and commitment to helping those in need were second to none, and we are so grateful for the time that we had with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all of those who loved him."
"Just a genuine nice person," said Rangers broadcaster and former teammate Tom Grieve in an MLB.com story published today. "He was one of those people you could say that everybody liked him. He was a good player. I remember the day he stole second, third and home. Excellent basestealer, played second and third base. Just a great person with a great personality."
A native of Fort Sill, Okla., Nelson was an alumnus of Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., Compton Junior College and Los Angeles State College. In 2012, Nelson was inducted into the Compton Community College Athletics Hall of Fame.