Friday, November 28, 2014

NAMES OF THE GAME: PREACHER ROE






The origin of Elwin Roe's nickname "Preacher'' is a bit murky. What he was known for is crystal clear.

Preacher Roe, a country boy from Arkansas, made a nice career off throwing a spitball and other assorted junk during a 12-year career. The lefty won 127 games for three teams, pitching the last seven seasons for the Brooklyn Dodgers, for whom he was a four-time All-Star and compiled a 93-37 record, 3.26 ERA and a 124 ERA+.

Explanations for Roe's nickname are varied. It was either self-given for no particular season, bestowed upon him by his grandmother because of his rapscallion nature or originated because of a friendship with a local Methodist minister.

Take your pick. Judging by this 1954 beauty, his final Topps card, it fits, doesn't it?

The spitball was banned in 1920, but it became Roe's outpitch when he was traded to the Dodgers in '38 at the age of 32. Encouraged by Manager Leo Durocher (big surprise) to use the spitter he picked up in the minors to compensate for a fading fastball, Roe became a rotation mainstay for the Bums. He was a member of three NL pennant winners in Brooklyn, and in his first postseason start in the '49 World Series won Game 2 with a shutout of the Yankees.

While opponents knew he loaded the ball, especially with two strikes, Roe was never caught. When batters would complain and ask the umpire to examine the ball, he would roll it home to erase any evidence. But Preacher confessed to Sports Illustrated in '55, the year after he retired. 

"The idea is to get part of your grip wet, and the other dry,'' Roe told SI. "When the ball leaves your hand, it slips off your wet fingers and clings, just tiny-like, to the dry part of your thumb. The ball jumps on account of it. If it's a good 'un, it drops like a dead duck just when it crosses the plate. ... When you let go, you squeeze a little more on the fingers. Did you ever squeeze a peach pit, or a watermelon seed, and let it shoot out? It's like that.''

Gross.

Pass the Purell.

Preacher, who died in '08 at the age of 92, may have played a bit dirty but he was genuine character. When asked what he attributed his success to, he replied "Clean livin' and the spitball.''

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