Connect with us

Dodger Baseball

Preacher Roe: Forgotten Boy of Summer

Elwin Charles Roe was born on February 26th, 1916, in Ash Flat Arkansas. He was one of seven children born to Dr. Charles Roe and his wife, Elizabeth. Dr. Roe was a right-handed pitcher, who played semi-pro ball until he passed 60.

He once formed a team with his six sons, his son in law, a grandson and himself to play against 9 men who were running for sheriff. Another Arkansas major leaguer, Marlin Stuart, claimed to have lost games to father and son 25 years apart.

How did Elwin become Preacher? There are a couple of stories. One, his uncle Bathis, his dads only brother, asked him what his name was and he replied, Preacher. And it stuck. Two, when he was little, he was an nasty little cuss, and his grandmother called him that hoping he would grow up to be one. Three, maybe it was because of the Methodist minister with his horse and buggy. They did not have any children and they took him with them everywhere. His mother thought he wanted to be called Preacher.

Whatever the reason, the nickname would stick with him the rest of his life. The kid could throw like pure heat. In college and American Legion ball, he would strike out 16 and walk 17. In one game against Arkansas Tech, he struck out 26 in a 13 inning game. Some sources say the game was only 11 innings.

He was spotted by Cardinals scout Frank Rickey, Branch’s brother, and he signed him. He used part of his 5000 bonus to buy uniforms for the Harding college team. He was one semester short of his degree in 1938. He also married his longtime girlfriend, Mozee Vida Clay.

Roe was called up to the Cardinals late in the 38 season. On August 22, fellow Aransinian, Lon Warnecke, took him into the clubhouse to teach him how to dip snuff. Frank Frisch, picked that moment to send him into his first game with the Cardinals trailing the Reds, 5-2 in the fifth inning. He gave up 4 runs in 2 innings in his debut.

He then disappeared into the Cardinal farm system for the next 5 years. He played on a Columbus team that won three straight Junior World Series, 41-43. His manager, Burt Shotton, said he was fast as hell, and wilder than any human he had ever seen.

Frisch became the manager of the Pirates and he traded two young major leaguers, pitcher, Johnny Podgajny, and outfielder, Johnny Wyrostek and cash for Roe. Roe pitched the opener and lost 2-0 to the Cardinals when Max Lanier held the Pirates to two hits. Roe got one of the hits, but he was usually hapless at the plate.

For most of the year he was sweating out his draft status. But he was declared unfit for duty due to a back injury suffered when a tree fell on him the previous winter. He went 13-11 with a 3.11 ERA.

The press at this time was presenting him as a hick in the city. And to his credit, Roe played the part, using his southern drawl and seemingly hick ways to approach the game.

But the man was really well educated and taught high school math in the off season. Pitching against weak wartime competition, he led the league in strikeouts in 45, going 14-13 and lowering his ERA to 2.87. He made the All-Star team, but the game was not played due to wartime travel restrictions. Measured by wins above replacement, he was the game’s best pitcher. At age 29, it seemed like he was on his way to a stellar career.

In the offseason, he also coached girls and boys basketball at Hardy High School. In February of 1946, he disputed a ref’s call and the ref slugged him. He banged his head on the floor and suffered a concussion. He reported to spring training late and then only completed one of his ten starts, with an ERA of 5.14. He went home in August, he was weak and could not fight through the headaches and dizziness.

During that time, catcher Al Lopez, helped him change his delivery and his position on the rubber. 47 was not any better, he finished with a 4-15 mark, a 5.25 ERA and just four complete games. But if you look closely, you see that the Pirates scored no more than 2 runs in 10 of those losses. Branch Rickey, now running the Dodgers, was watching closely.

After the season, Rickey traded Dixie Walker, Vic Lombardi and Hal Gregg, to the Pirates for Roe, Billy Cox and Gene Mauch. The backstory is Walker asked to be traded because he did not want to play on the same team as Jackie Robinson. In fact several players had signed a petition saying they did not want to play with a Negro ballplayer. One notable exception, Kentuckian Pee Wee Reese.

Roe was now healthy, but his fastball had not returned. He could throw it maybe four or five times a game. One day Durocher was catching his new pitcher and a pitch got away from him. “What was that?” Roe replied, “a slider”.

Leo knew better. Roe had decided it was time to break in the spitter he had learned in the minors. Campy told him there was no use for a sign, he had caught plenty of them in the Negro leagues and knew one when he saw it.

When the hitters caught on, he would simply throw another pitch going through the same motions. The batters, expecting the wet one, would be surprised by a mediocre fastball. To load up his spitter, Roe would reach for the bill of his cap and spit into his hand. He would then tug on his belt, and transfer the moisture to his fingertips.

Preacher was 32 when he joined Brooklyn. He became successful and famous. He cut his ERA in half to 2.63. He led the league in fewest walks per 9 innings and he was 12-8. Burt Shotton replaced the suspended Leo Durocher in July, and said he did not look like the same pitcher.

In 49, Newcombe joined the team beginning the Boys of Summer, Snider, Jackie, Campy, Newk, Pee Wee, Hodges, Furillo and Erskine. I always felt Roe was a forgotten member of that group. Of course, he was much older than the rest.

The Dodgers battled the Cardinals all year. They finally overcame the Cardinal lead and clinched the pennant on the final day of the season. Roe did his part, 15-6 with a 2.70 ERA and the league’s best strikeout to walk ratio, 2.5. He made the first of four consecutive All-Star selections as a Dodger.

Newcombe started the first game of the series, and lost a nail biter to Allie Reynolds, 1-0 on Henrichs ninth inning homer. Roe started game 2 against Raschi. His parents were in the stands, it was the first time his mother had ever seen him pitch.

The Dodgers scored in the second on a double by Robinson and a two-out single by Hodges. Roe worked out of a couple jams caused by errors by Reese and Hodges. But in the fourth inning, he took a line drive by Lindell off of his finger on his glove hand. It took half the nail off of his ring finger.

The team doctor drilled a hole in the nail to relieve the swelling. Roe pitched the rest of the game with a bandaged and throbbing finger. He later learned it was broken. He pitched a six hitter. Only one Yankee reached third base in his 1-0 win.

It would be the only game the Dodgers would win. He was unable to start game 5 because his finger was so swollen. Six Dodger pitchers got pounded for 10 runs, and the series was over.

The Dodgers battled until the last game of the season again in 1950, this time against Philadelphia’s Whiz Kids. They were beaten on the last day on a three run homer by Dick Sisler. Roe and Newcombe were both 19-11, but Roe had a 3.30 ERA, the best on the team. But he gave up 34 home runs, tied for the league lead with Ken Raffensburger, another junk throwing lefty.

Long balls were his weakness because he refused to give in to hitters. “I would rather take a chance on a homer, because there is no defense for a walk.”

Preacher threw a fastball, change-up, curve and a slider. He never mentioned the spitball, but the hitters did. Stan Musial, who hit 12 homers off of Roe, by far the most by any one hitter, said he always tried to avoid getting two-strikes because he knew that the spitter was coming.

Players called the pitch a Beech-Nut curve after his favorite brand of chewing gum. When a batter complained and asked the ump to check the ball, Roe would roll it to the plate. Or if the umpire asked Campy for the ball, he would drop it on the ground and step on it to erase the evidence.

He once said, ” I would aim for the corners, never throwing the same pitch twice or what the hitter was expecting.” One day he threw a fastball past a hitter for strike three, the hitter yelled, ” that’s the last fastball you’ll ever throw by me!” ” That’s the last one I’ll ever throw you!” Roe replied. The next time up, Roe worked the count to 0-2, and then threw another fastball for strike three. That caused a distasteful attitude among the hitters, according to Roe. ” All them batters are suspicious, none of them believes Ol ‘Preach anymore!”

Roe and his family spent the summers in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, where many of the Dodgers lived. But each winter they would head home. Roe moved his family to West Plains, Missouri, about 50 miles from his hometown.

The nearby town of Salem Arkansas asked Roe for help to raise money and install lights on the local baseball field. A local bank agreed to a loan for the lights as long as Roe would pitch one exhibition game to raise funds each fall. One year, a teenager playing center field ran down a long fly ball. Roe asked the kids’ name. He was Bill Virdon, a star player for West Plains High School. Virdon would later become the ROY in 1954 with the Cardinals. He would also manage for 12 years in the majors.

“I knew right away when I saw that kid run down that fly ball that he warnt no farmer!” The field where the lights were installed was later named Preacher Roe Park.

In 1951, Preacher went 22-3. An .880 winning percentage which is still a major league record for a 20 game winner. He had a 3.04 ERA that year. But for the Dodgers, it was a heartbreaking season. They blew a 13 game lead in August and September, finished in a tie with the Giants and lost the three game playoff.

Roe started fast in 51, winning his first seven games. But Dressen started pacing him. Giving him four full days off between starts. The reporters called it a disappointing season because he won only 11 games. He made 27 starts. He lost 2 and had a 3.14 ERA with 8 complete games.

The Dodgers won the pennant and faced the Yankees in the series. They split the first two games, then Roe started game three. He held the Yankees to six hits, two of them homers by Berra and Mize. He walked five, but the Dodgers held on to win 5-3. He was used in relief the last two games of the series, but the Yankees prevailed.

In 53, it was more of the same, he started 24 games, but at age 37, he knew his career was winding down. His ERA climbed to 4.36, but he won 11 again and lost only 3 on a team that won 105 games. He got one more shot at the Yankees in game two of the series against another junk balling lefty, Eddie Lopat.

The Dodgers led 2-1 in the 7th inning. They had touched Lopat for 8 hits, the Yanks had 2 off of Roe. Billy Martin led off the seventh with a homer to tie the score. Roe said he hit a high curveball,” the biggest mistake since they invented buttermilk.” Roe would say.  In the 8th, Bauer singled and Mantle hit a ball that was below his knees into the left field seats for the eventual game winner. The Yanks won the series in six games.

In 1954, he was bothered by arm and leg problems, he only appeared in 15 games, going 3-4. The Dodgers nevertheless included him in a trade with Billy Cox to Baltimore for a couple of minor leaguers and 50 grand. Preacher announced his retirement and the Orioles could not talk him out of it. The trade stood and Preacher went home.

Preacher Roe and Johnny Podres

Years after he was left paralyzed, Roy Campanella called Roe the best pitcher he ever worked with. ” He was a guy who knew what he was doing every minute of every game.” When Roe’s spitball confession appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1955, some of the sportswriters who built his reputation called him a cheat. But others pointed out he was not the only one with wet fingers.

He was paid 2000 dollars for the story. He said he did it because he wanted to see the spitter legalized. Ford Frick, the commissioner, and AL President Joe Cronin agreed with him. The baseball rules committee did not.

Not long after he retired, he drove Mozee to the grocery store to buy groceries and he chatted with the owner while she shopped. When she got to the checkout counter, he told her, ” Just push them out, they’re ours, I just bought the store.”

He called the store in West Plains Preacher Roe’s Super Market and ran it for two decades . He coached youth baseball and was active in the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club, and his church. He was honored by the company when they named one of their main streets, Preacher Roe Blvd.

Roe would later be elected to the NAIA Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Hall of Fame. His memoir, When Baseball Was Still A Game, was published in 2005. 32.86 on Ebay.

Preacher also attended more than 20 Fantasy camps at Vero Beach. He quit when his wife got ill, but returned after she passed in 2002. In one of his last appearances at a camp, he told the campers this. ” Now fellows, I want to leave you with this. Live every day like it was your last because one day, you are going to be right.

Roe passed away on November 9th, 2008, from complications of colon cancer. He was 92. Unless you are familiar with Brooklyn Dodger history, he is easily overlooked.

But here are some of his standings on the All-Time Dodger list. WAR 19th with 25.1. Higher than Newcombe, Jansen and several others. ERA 49th. Wins 23rd with 93.  Won-Lost Pct. 3rd. .715. Only Greinke and Buehler are higher.  Strikeouts. 42nd. Higher than Gagne, Greinke, Astacio, Lowe and Pena. He is in the top 30 with 173 starts.

Yes, he was an underrated and valuable member of the Dodgers.

Pee Wee, Jackie, and Preacher

 

 

 

 

 

40 Comments
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
40 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fred Vogel

Nice article Bear. Loved Beech-Nut gum. Good to know I have a connection with Mr. Roe.

Oldbear48

Thanks Fred. This was a fun write for me. I always love stories about the more colorful characters in baseball history. Another Dodger who was a little out there was Jay Johnstone.

Duke Not Snider

I’ve been thinking Kike is a bit like Johnstone…. but maybe more so.

Oldbear48

Johnstone was a prankster, and he drove Tommy nuts. I think my favorite story about him is when he was spotted at the concession stand at Dodger Stadium, in full uniform during a game, buying hot dogs. Of course, his imitation of Lasorda on the field was classic too. And the time he and Jerry Ruess went out and dragged the infield.

Dionysus

Not a bad call.

Dionysus

Hudson & Treinen join the bullpen. Stone takes SP5. We try to keep any valuable NRIs in the system for as long as we can.

Duke Not Snider

Another nice one, Bear. Thanks.

Oldbear48

Always fun to do. I have little wonder why those guys had trouble fielding balls when you look at those gloves they had.

Jeff Dominique

Diego Cartaya is not playing due a back injury. What makes this worrisome is that it is not his first one. This has all the appearances of a chronic issue. It is reported that he will be ready to start the MiLB season.

AAA season starts March 29.
AA, A+, A seasons starts April 5.

I have not heard where Cartaya will be starting his season. I am guessing Tulsa (AA) with Dalton Rushing. I expect Hunter Feduccia and Chris Okey to begin at OKC.

Oldbear48

Well, we know Barnes isn’t going anywhere.

Dionysus

I’ve adjusted my future hopes for him to be a very good back-up, which has considerable value in itself.

Duke Not Snider

I assume you mean Cartaya as a “a very good” backup.
Yes, considerable value. But a team can always find a veteran backup–at least an adequate one. So I’d be fine with Cartaya as a trade chip in the right deal.
Especially if Will gets extended…

Oldbear48

D-Backs taking a page out of the Dodger playbook. They signed Elvis Andrus to a minor league deal. They have several former big leaguers as Non roster invitees, including former Dodger, Kyle Garlick.

Phil Jones

Thanks Bear.
Watching Pages hitting .500 (yes, I know it’s early) makes me think that somewhere down the line this year, we may have one too many Swiss Army Knives between Chris Taylor and Kike. Statwise they are the same hitter; CT3 -.237/.746, Kike – .237/646. Kike a better value; 4million vs CT @ 15million. Pages could replace one of them this season, barring injuries. We’ll see.

Rick Monday said something I liked yesterday. I have always been interested in the mental approach to the game – eliminating “stinking thinking”.
Rick mentioned old SS, Don Kissinger’s tip. Don counted the bounces of a groundball coming to him. That may sound stupid but I can see the value of that to take your mind off any negative thoughts. You don’t hear the demons. Your mind is focused on something neutral and not something negative; like the yips or a boot. I might have used that with kids, coaching. No paralysis from analysis.

Last edited 1 month ago by Phil Jones
Bumsrap

I can hear myself now, oh shtt, a one-hopper right at me.

Sam Oyed

Or; one hop, two hops oh wait was that the third or fourth hop. Ball rolls through legs; oh never mind.

Phil Jones

Hey Fred, that would be the “sticking thinking” we’re trying to avoid.

Bumsrap

That would also be why I’m not a Dodger.

Dionysus

I think when Pages is ready, he will play everyday.

Either due to an injury to one of three starting OFers or next year.

Duke Not Snider

Stuart Smalley was very much against “stinkin’ thinkin’.”
Not a great ballplayer, though.

Cassidy

The famous Dodger prayer of Pedro Guerrero.
‘Many times in the field I prayed to God they wouldn’t hit the ball to me,’ he said. ‘Then I prayed to God they wouldn’t hit the ball to Steve Sax.’

Duke Not Snider

I never heard it expressed as a prayer, but the sentiment inspired one of the best baseball quotes ever. Cooperstown should have a wing devoted to the wit and wisdom of the game.

Dionysus

I always forget about Grove.

Stone has SP5 in his pocket.

Ohtani might have the single best offensive year in Dodger history.

Oldbear48

Possible, but not likely. The best offensive season a Dodger ever had was 1930. Babe Herman hit .393, had 35 homers, 130 RBIs, 48 doubles, 11 triples, he walked 66 times and only struck out 56 times. His WAR that year was 6.9. That is 94 extra base hits. Last year Ohtani had a 10 WAR, but part of that was pitching. He also had more extra base hits than he ever had before, 78. But he strikes out more than he walks by a large margin, and he hit .304. With all those homers, he didn’t even knock in 100. He has done that once in his career. Granted, he will have more RBI opportunities with LA than he did with the Angels. Herman did what he did with a 4th place team. Every starter on that team hit .290 or better except the second baseman who hit .278.

Last edited 1 month ago by Oldbear48
Duke Not Snider

Babe Herman had some awesome stats….But as you point out, the BA was inflated back in the day. Hard to compare eras.
Last season, before he was hurt, there was a modest “triple crown” watch for Ohtani. (The reason he didn’t knock in 100 because he missed 27 games and he played for a weak team.)
If Shohei is able to play 160 games, he could threaten 60 HRs. With Mookie in front and Freddie behind him, he could hit, say, .320 and collect 120 RBI and 120 runs scored. (He could steal 40 bases–but I don’t think Roberts will send him often, or give him the proverbial green light.)
Again, the final numbers depend on whether he can stay on the field–or at least batter’s box and basepaths.
But unlike in ’23, when Trout was injured, he’s now surrounded by tremendous talent and could have another tremendous season.

Last edited 1 month ago by Duke Not Snider
Oldbear48

How was BA inflated? And I never said that. His stats were simply based on his offense. Yes, hard to compare eras, but travel was much harder, no hotels with A/C. They wore those heavy wool uni’s. His season is very legitimate. Herman scored 143 runs that year. Dodger record for RBIs is 153 by Tommy Davis. Best offensive WAR in a season, Mike Piazza in 1997 9.0. Only 5 players in Dodger history have ever hit over .360, Herman, twice, Keeler, twice, Wheat, O’Doul and Piazza. As for offensive WAR, Ohtani is not even in the Angels top 10 of all time. Mike Trout holds the top 7 spots all by himself and all of them over 8. He has a long way to go to match Piazza’s 9 WAR season.

Bluto

The Dodgers have optioned RHPs Landon Knack, Ricky Vanasco and Nick Frasso, catchers Hunter Feduccia and Diego Cartaya and OF Andy Pages, and re-assigned LHP Stephen Gonsalves, RHPs Jesse Hahn, Michael Petersen and Eduardo Salazar and OF Travis Swaggerty to minor league camp.

Bluto

River Ryan too.

OhioDodger

You have got to wonder what in the hell the Dodger brass was thinking when they gifted Taylor that contract.

Last edited 1 month ago by OhioDodger
Make mine Blue

They were thinking, Taylor is a known commodity at the major league level, there is no guess work, you know what you are getting.

Bluto

They probably thought he would perform better after signing it?

Dionysus

It was a mistake and I love Chris Taylor. I think we can survive it though. He’s an expensive insurance policy.

Oldbear48

But he always comes up big in the playoffs. The Brewers have nightmares about him playing the outfield.

Dionysus

Loved that play and you’re right.

Oldbear48

I do not wonder at all. Kike was gone, Taylor was the only player capable of doing close to what Kike did. Also, he was one of the few players in 21 who actually had a good postseason. He hit the walk off homer that got them into the NLDS, he had a 3-homer game against the Braves in the NLCS that kept them alive. Don’t look now, but Taylor has 9 post-season homers. That is just 4 behind the two all-time Dodger leaders, Seager and JT. Snider had 11, but all of his came in the World Series. As good as JT was in post-season play, his last four playoff series for the Dodgers he was awful. Between the three series in 21 and the 22 playoffs with the Padres, JT was 8-47 with 1 homer and 1 RBI. The big guns were totally missing that playoff run in 21. Mookie did well against the Giants that year and was 2-4 in the game with St. Louis. But he hit .174 with only 4 hits against Atlanta. The guys that carried them? Bellinger hit .412 with a homer and 4 driven in. Pollock hit ,381 and hit two homers and drove in 7 runs. Taylor hit .476 with 3 homers and 9 driven in. Seager hit .217. He did hit 2 homers and drive in 4. Muncy was out, the rest of the team sucked. At the time, they felt he was worth it. Andre Ethier got his huge contract after his 2011 season. He came nowhere near that kind of year after that. 2012 was the last time he hit at least 20 homers.

Duke Not Snider

Kudos to Taylor’s agent.
Meanwhile, Max is getting an AAV of $12m despite his habit of hitting 35 HRs per season. Teoscar is getting $23.5m for just one season–and he is expected to bat behind Max in most games.
Pretty sure that much-maligned Max will lead the team in bang-for-the-buck.

Bluto

In an article on Yamamoto, Ardaya sheds more light on Gavin Stone’s pitch tipping:

($$$$)
https://theathletic.com/5313676/2024/03/03/dodgers-yoshinobu-yamamoto-tipping/

When rookie Gavin Stone returned for his second turn in the majors last summer, the club’s staff quickly noticed a tip with the right-hander’s premium pitch — he’d wiggle his arm ahead of his go-to changeup — and worked to rectify his delivery after Stone got bombarded in his third career outing against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Oldbear48

Nice win today. Top 3 in the order went 7-9 scoring 5 and driving in 4. Muncy hit his second spring homer. Nice to see after he was hit in the hand earlier this week. Grove and Stone looked good. Lamet looked rusty. 11 players sent to minor league camp including Pages.

Duke Not Snider

The performance of Pages sort of makes me wish AF didn’t sign Teoscar…
It would be fun if Pages and Vargas were competing for that last spot on the roster. Always good to bring in a rookie or two.
Of course an injury could create an opportunity.

Oldbear48

Kid was injured all of last year. They needed a power RH bat to replace JD. You can’t hope he will be ready, he has to show it. Now he can go to AAA, get a little more comfortable and show he is ready for the show. He still could be called up in case of injury.

Must See

More in Dodger Baseball

40
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x