Monday, November 10, 2008


Preacher Roe - 1952

He may have been born Elwin Charles Roe but everyone knew him as "Preacher," the Brooklyn Dodgers ace left-hander of The Boys of Summer era... before a kid named Koufax came along.

(I always found it vastly amusing that the given names of two of the great Dodgers of that time, Roe and "Duke" Snider, were Elwin Charles and Edwin Donald.)

"Ol' Preach," as Red Barber used to call him, was a jug-eared, hard-throwing southpaw out of Ash Flat, Arkansas who had a cup of coffee with the 1938 St. Louis Cardinals, then didn't made it back to the major leagues 'til he caught on the the National League doormat Pirates of Pittsburgh in 1944.

(It was the war years and talent was so thin that the St. Louis Browns' started half their games in 1945 with a one armed outfielder, Pete Grey.)

His fire-balling days behind him, Roe toiled in Pittsburgh for three years until he was traded to the Dodgers for the 1948 season. From that point on until his retirement at age 39 in 1954, the crafty pitcher won 93 games for Brooklyn, losing only 37.

In that time he also won two World Series games against the hated New York Yankees, and had a remarkable 22-3 record in 1951... which is what I recall most about the man; he was consistently a high percentage pitcher.

Of course, there is that "other thing," too... my first ever "Say it ain't so, Joe!" moment.

The year following his retirement to run a supermarket in West Plains, Missouri, Roe did an "as told to Dick Young" story for fledgling Sports Illustrated, "The Wet One Was My Money Pitch."

"Ol' Preach" [gasp!] threw the illegal spitball, as shocking then as the Mitchell Committee's revelations of steroid use was two years ago!

Preacher Roe passed away Sunday, age 92, in West Plains, another Boy of Summer gone.


1. Rob F. said...

Thanks for that remembrance, Dean. I'll celebrate Preacher's memory by sticking some more pins in my Walter O'Malley doll. Lots of us Brooklyn boys still have one that we abuse from time to time.

Okay, you stick O'Malley, I'll do Robert Moses, the true villain in the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles.

2. Hampton West said...

Robert Moses - wouldn't give O'Malley Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue correct?

Waldo - was he traded for Dixie Walker?

Moses was the hump in that deal... O'Malley didn't want anything but the land so he could build a covered (!) stadium at Atlantic and Flatbush close to the terminus of the LIRR. Would have used his own money for everything! Moses wanted it in Flushing Meadow, and O'Malley couldn't budge him, even with Mayor Robert Wagner's and Governor Avril Harriman's support. Los Angeles gave him the key to the city and, after evicting a number of what were then referred to as "Chicanos." the whole of Chávez Ravine.

When Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey traded "The People's Cherce," Dixie Walker, to Pittsburgh in 1948, he got Preacher Roe, classy third baseman Billy Cox and reserve middle-infielder Gene Mauch in return. Walker retired the following season. Roe and "Ol' Hoss" Cox were two of The Boys of Summer.

3. Frank Wheeler said...

So "Ol' Preach" was a cheater, right?

In the sense that he threw an "outlawed" pitch, yeah.

The "spitter" (and "emery ball") pitch were legal 'til 1920... there's some disagreement about the part Ray Chapman's death played in that legislation... but "registered spitballers" were grandfathered and allowed to continue throwing the "wet one." (The last of those, Burleigh Grimes, retired durring the '34 season.)

Others who pitched after Roe who either admitted to its use, or were strongly suspected of applying "foreign substances" to the baseball, were the 1957 World Series MVP Lew Burdette, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry and Joe Niekro.

I don't recalled hearing anything about Roe throwing spitters during his playing days, but was amused to note that, following his retirement and "as told to" confession piece in Sports Illustrated, the great Stan Musial was asked by a writer for The Sporting News if he remembered what pitches he had hit for Grand Slams... I think he had just hit his fifth or sixth of his career. He rattled off the opposing pitchers he'd victimized with the bases loaded, and expanded a bit on the one he'd hit off of Roe:
"It was a 3-2 pitch so I knew what was coming and set myself for it."
Was Musial that good a hitter that he could made such contact if he was sure a spitter was coming? O, yeah! Just look at his record over 22 seasons! The two guys this young Dodgers fan most hated to see come into Ebbets Field were Musial and Joe Adcock!

One of the great stories told of those times, when Roe was asked the best way to get Musial out, responded:
"I throw him four wide ones and try to pick him off first base."

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