Growing up the son of a Brooklyn boy of a certain age meant that I was gifted with a copy of Roger Kahns "The Boys of Summer" at a pretty early age. I already knew of guys like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Gil Hodges, so it was the introduction to names like Andy Pafko, Billy Cox and Preacher Roe that left a major impression. More than any of the others it was Roe, an Arkansas-born pitcher who could turn a phrase, who captured my imagination. So it was sad to read that Ol' Preach died Sunday at 92 from colon cancer.
The stories of Roe and the other lesser-known Bums were fascinating because of how ordinary the rest of their lives were. When they left baseball, if they didn't become coaches, they had to get a regular job. Roe opened a supermarket in Missouri after winning 127 big-league games with the Pirates and Dodgers, and just lived an ordinary life after playing a major role on some extraordinary teams in the 1940's and 50's.
Roe struggled with the Pirates before a 1947 trade brought him to Brooklyn. He flourished on the Dodgers, helping them to the World Series in 1949, 1952 and 1953, and to the legendary playoff game in 1951. Roe was 22-3 with a 3.04 ERA that season and made one of his five All-Star teams. In "The Boys of Summer," Roe, not a fireballer, was quoted as saying he had three pitches, "my change, my change off'n my change, and my change off'n my change off'n my change."
Actually he had a fourth pitch, the spitball. In 1955, a year after he hung up his spikes, Roe spoke to Dick Young for a Sports Illustrated article titled, "The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch." It wasn't a state secret, Kahn has him striking out Ralph Kiner on three soggy balls, but was a pretty controversial admission for its time. Roe was a colorful man from a black and white time.
Roe joins Robinson, Hodges, Roy Campanella and other boys from those summers who have left the Earth. My father's gone too, as are so many of the people who thrilled to their exploits. Every year takes us closer to the day when no one will remember watching major leaguers play baseball in Brooklyn.