|Then There Was Eight...Roe Dead at 92|
Elwin "Preacher Roe", one of the last living members of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Series team, died in West Plains, Missouri, after a long battle with colon cancer. Surviving teammates include Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax, Tommy Lasorda, Don Zimmer, Roger Craig and George "Shotgun" Shuba.
He didn't arrive in Brooklyn until he was 35, but the epitomy of a "crafty lefthander," he was nearly unbeatable for the Dodgers and was excellent in their annual blood-letting with the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Roe was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, for whom he pitched in one game in 1938. Traded to Pittsburgh September 30, 1943, he was the NL's strikeout leader in 1945, when he went 14-13 (2.87) for Pittsburgh. He suffered a fractured skull in a fight in '45 while coaching a basketball game and dropped to 3-8 and 4-15 before being traded to Brooklyn December 8, 1947.
The Dodgers also received third baseman Billy Cox and infielder Gene Mauch for outfielder Dixie Walker, and pitchers Hal Gregg and Vic Lombardi.
It was with the Brooklyn Dodgers that he had his greatest seasons. From 1951 through 1953, he went 44-8 for the Dodgers. Playing the hillbilly to the maximum, the intelligent Roe would say, "I got three pitches: my change; my change off my change; and my change off my change off my change."
Roe was TSN Pitcher of the Year in 1951 when he went 22-3 with Brooklyn, a winning percentage of .880 that would stand for many years and still a record for pitchers with more than 20 wins.
In a Sports Illustrated article Roe wrote he decided to throw the spitter in 1947. "But I admitted in the article to throwing only four wet ones. It was just one of my pitches; and just one part of my pitching. I won't tell you I only threw four while with Brooklyn, but it wasn't my only pitch, Some think I threw a hundred every game."
When he retired, he attempted to set the wheels in motion to legalize the spitball. But sent the baseball world into a frenzy by admitting to having a fourth pitch in a 1955 Sports Illustrated article, "The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch."
His secret, along with having catcher Roy Campanella, first baseman Gil Hodges, second baseman Jackie Robinson, shortstop Pee Wee Reese and third baseman Billy Cox load the ball for him, was to spit on his wrist when he adjusted his cap. His long fingers would pick up the moisture and the pitch would dip and dive on it's way to the plate.
But the crafty pitcher also had a fake spitter he used after going to his cap. "I had a wet one and three fake wet ones," he said.
With the Dodgers in 1948, he won two straight shutouts to beat out Dwain Sloat for the second lefthanded spot on the staff and recorded a 12-8 record with a 2.63 ERA.
In 1949, his record 15-6, 2.79 record came with a league-high .714 winning percentage. He shut out the Yankees 1-0 for the Dodgers' only win in the '49 World Series. He improved to 19-11 in 1950 and then his best season, 22-3 came in the classic playoff with the Giants at the end of the 1951 season.
He went 11-2 at age 37 in 1952 and pitched a complete-game, 5-3 win over New York in Game Three. After going 11-3 in 1953, he worked his final World Series, losing game two to the Yankees when he allowed a tie-breaking, eighth-inning homer to Mickey Mantle to lose, 4-2. His career ERA was 2.54, tied for seventh with Joe Black on the all-time list.
Roe slipped to 3-4 at age 39 and the Dodgers traded him to Baltimore along with Billy Cox on December 13, 1954 for a pair of minor league players (Harry Schwegeman and Johnny Jancse) plus $50,000.
Elwin Charles "Preacher" Roe was born February 26, 1916 in Ash Flat, Arkansas, the son of Dr. C.E. and Elizabeth Ducker Roe. He graduated from high school in Viola, Arkansas and attended Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, where he averaged 18 strikeouts per game.
He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1938 and Preacher's first and only major league game with the Cardinals was August 22, 1938.
Preacher Roe and Mozee Clay married on September 7, 1938 and they had two sons, Elwin C. Jr. and Tommy.
Roe went on to play in the Cardinal minor league system through 1943. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1944 and was the opening day pitcher that year. In 1945 he led the National League with 148 strikeouts.
What followed then were several bad years with the Pirates after being knocked unconscious while coaching a girls high school basketball game for Hardy, Arkansas.
Branch Rickey took him into the Brooklyn Dodger family in 1948 and quickly traded for both Roe and Billy Cox. There Roe became one of the greatest pitchers of the era. Losing the pennant in 1951 yet going on to make the "Pitcher of the Year" title by The Sporting News for his 22-3, National League percentage of .880.
He pitched in 3 World Series (1949, 1952, 1953). Preacher stayed with the Dodger organization until 1954 when he bought a grocery store in West Plains, MO, and retired from baseball in a gentlemen's agreement with Brooklyn Dodger owner, Walter O'Malley.
After retirement from baseball, Preacher continued to stay active. He organized and coached youth baseball in the local Missouri area, was President of the West Plains Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club Board of Directors, and on the Methodist Church Board of Directors.
After a full and eventful life, including being in the Arkansas, Missouri, and Dodger Hall of Fame, Preacher took up golfing at the age of 77.