The Obit For Preacher Roe

Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Preacher Roe dies

November 12, 2008

Preacher Roe, a five-time All-Star and central character on Brooklyn's storied "Boys of Summer" teams, who was known for a pitching resourcefulness that included use of the banned spitball, died Sunday. He was 93, according to most sources, though his Web site listed him as 92.

Roe, who long ago settled in West Plains, Mo., near his childhood home of Viola, Ark., had undergone colon surgery recently and never fully recovered. For years, he operated a small grocery store in West Plains on Preacher Roe Boulevard.

A skinny 6-foot-2, 170-pound lefthander, Roe starred for the Dodgers in the late 1940s and early 1950s alongside such familiar greats as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges. He pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates before joining Brooklyn in 1948, Roe had a 127-84 record in 12 major league seasons. He pitched in three World Series games, all against the Yankees, winning two.

He prided himself in keeping hitters off balance by throwing a slider and a "Beech-Nut slider." Players regularly chewed Beech-Nut gum at the time, and Roe used the juice to illegally wet the ball, causing it to dip dramatically. Roe acknowledged using the spitter in a Sports Illustrated story a year after his retirement, saying he had no regrets and wanted to see the pitch legalized.

Elwin Charles Roe was born Feb. 26 in either 1915 or 1916 and apparently was known as Preacher most of his life. According to one story at 3, he answered a what's-your-name question with "Preacher" because he enjoyed horse-and-buggy rides with a local man of the cloth. Dodgers teammate Ralph Branca said he was called Preacher because "he could talk your ear off." Roe was a graduate of Harding College, a Christian school in Searcy, Ark., that is now Harding University, and had worked as a math teacher.

In an interview with an eighth-grader in West Plains, Roe expressed his pride in having had Robinson as a teammate. "I just felt if Jackie hit a home run while I was pitching, it counted just as much for me as if Pee Wee Reese hit it or some of the other guys that were white. ... I'd say, 'You never have seen a good ballplayer until you've seen him.' He was that good."