11/07/2003 6:09 PM ET
Roe knows Dodgers baseball
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have just wrapped up their 41st Adult Baseball Camp at Dodgertown and, as usual, there were many highlights during the week-long festivities, including a no-hitter hurled by Los Angeles' Peter Cook in the camp's championship game.
Certainly another major highlight of this fall's camp was the presence of 88-year-old former Brooklyn Dodger pitching great Preacher Roe, who served as an instructor at the camp for the 21st time.
Just as he did last November when he returned as an instructor following after a seven-year absence, Roe, who served at the inaugural camp in October 1983, made the 1,200-mile drive from West Plains, Mo., with his son Tommy, who was among the 93 camp participants.
What a treat it was for not only the campers, but also for the team of instructors made up of former Dodger stars, including four of Roe's Brooklyn teammates, Ralph Branca, Carl Erskine, Clem Labine and Hall of Famer Duke Snider.
With his dry sense of humor and quick wit, Roe, the Arkansas native shared stories and pearls of wisdom with the most attentive campers.
"He hasn't even told half the stories. He's got many, believe me," Labine said. "What an asset it is having him here. One of the great things is that it helps keep us Brooklyn Dodgers in focus."
The left-handed Roe spent seven of his 12 big league seasons with Brooklyn (1948-54), playing on three pennant winners. Overall in his career, he posted a 127-84 record, but his biggest seasons came with the Dodgers, highlighted by his fabulous 1951 campaign in which he went 22-3 for a National League-leading .880 winning percentage. He was a 19-game winner the previous season and in 1949, he also led the NL in winning percentage (.714) as he went 15-6. The 1952 and 1953 campaigns produced marks of 11-2 and 11-5. In a career full of highlights, Roe likes to point out Game 2 of the 1949 World Series when he took a shot back to the box off his right forefinger and despite intense pain, he stayed in the game and blanked the New York Yankees, 1-0.
Roe originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, pitched four seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and then was traded to the Dodgers in a six-player deal prior to the 1948 season.
"To the young pitchers, he was our mentor," said Erskine, whose rookie season was the same year Roe joined the club. "Back in those days, there were no pitching coaches, so we looked up to the older pitchers for guidance.
"From Preacher, I learned the art of pitching. He didn't say a whole lot and he didn't teach a whole lot, but by the way he went about his business on the mound, he showed us a whole lot. A lot of young pitchers want to just throw as hard as they can and as fast as they can. Preacher was a real master out there, a thinker. He showed me how to be a pitcher and not a thrower.
"Then beyond that, we became very good friends. It's funny, during the season we'd be in the dugout together and talk about fishing. Then in the offseason, we'd be on a boat in Arkansas talking about baseball. It's so nice to see him back here. He brings a neat spirit. You feel it when he's around, just that easy manner he possesses."
After serving as an instructor at his 19th camp in November 1995, Roe thought that would be his final camp. His beloved wife Mozee,
with whom he enjoyed a 63-year marriage, was ailing and Roe didn't want to leave her behind and head to Florida. So while the Adult Camps continued, Roe stayed home. That is until November 2002 when he was persuaded to return, about a year-and-a-half after losing his wife.
"This is great to be able to put on the uniform again and be here with the fellers," said Roe, who was born Elwin Charles Roe, but nicknamed "Preacher," because of his early desire to be a minister. "I really enjoy coming here."
His son Tommy's willingness to take the long trek with his father is why the elder Roe has come back to camp, something Tommy doesn't mind a bit.
"My dad is my best friend. I don't think there are many that can say that. I'll do anything I can for him," said Tommy, 57. "He always enjoyed coming here for the camps with my mom and spending time with his old teammates and their wives. It was like a family reunion. They loved it.
"Coming back last year was a bit tough for him, being here for the first time without mom, who we miss very much. I'll tell you, I'm very lucky to have the best parents anyone could ask for. This time I think it's more enjoyable. I know this means a lot to him to see his old friends."
For Tommy Roe, until last November, he had not been to Dodgertown since 1954, his dad's final big-league season.
"I remember drinking all the orange juice I could hold and going fishing. I'd be here with dad, mom, my brother (Elwin, Jr.), the whole family," Tommy said. "I was too little to remember much about my dad's career, but I know he's very proud of it."
"I tell you, when I think about my career, I think about how happy I was to join the Dodgers," Preacher Roe said. "I had two bad years in Pittsburgh, so I thought I might be out of baseball. But I went to the Dodgers and made a comeback.
"I think about the closeness of the team. We had a hell of a team. We were friends, good friends. The Brooklyn fans were great. They'd call you a bum, but they were really pulling for you. I'm happy with my career. Life's been too good to me to complain about anything."
"Before having the chance to meet him, I definitely knew the name, but I didn't know the importance of the man and all that he accomplished," said 10-time camper Joe Baldo, who had the honor of having his locker next to Roe's. "I've learned so much about him. He's quite a guy.
"He's always willing to tell a story, at any time. You know how privileged I feel to be stopped by Preacher Roe and he says, 'Let me tell you a story.' I have a lot of memories from these camps and having Preacher here makes it extra special."
How extra special was Roe's career? Special enough to earn Hall of Fame consideration?
"I think I was on the ballot once, but came up short," Roe said. "I think I'll have to die before I'm eligible again, so I'm not in any hurry."
That's an example of the kind of wit the campers enjoyed from Roe all week. Another example of his humor was pointed out by Erskine, who recalls how Roe addressed the campers in November 1995 when he thought he was attending his final camp.
Said Erskine: "Preacher said 'Now fellows, I want to leave you with this. Live every day like it's your last, because one day you'll be right.' "
The next Los Angeles Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp is slated for Feb. 8-14,
2004. For information, call 1-800-334-PLAY.
Chris Gutierrez is coordinator of baseball information for the Los Angeles
By Chris Gutierrez / Special to MLB.com