SABR

Ed Roebuck

This article was written by Paul Hirsch.

Ed Roebuck has a safe-deposit box with two World Series championship rings in it. One ring represents the Brooklyn Dodgers’ only title, won in 1955. The other was earned as a scout for the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the first Red Sox team to win it all in 86 years ... a bounty that would make any baseball lifer proud. Yet injuries, end-of-season calamities, and extenuating circumstances cost him perhaps four more rings.

Edward Jack Roebuck, who pitched in professional baseball from 1948 to 1967 and was a scout for almost four decades after that, entered the world on July 3, 1931, as the last of nine children born to Jacob and Caroline Roebuck in East Millsboro, in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal mine country. His father, Jacob Chrobak, met his mother, Karolina Rol, daughter of Jacob Rol and Rozalia Bryjak, in Chicago around 1916.1

Karolina was born either in Budapest, Hungary, or Dlugopole, Poland, in April 1894 and emigrated to the US in 1912. Jacob and Karolina, or Caroline, changed their name to Roebuck, probably before they moved to East Millsboro.2 Their first child was born in 1919; by 1926 they had seven more; and five years after that Ed came along. The youngest Roebuck was the only one of six brothers never to follow in his father’s footsteps and work in the mines. “My older brother wouldn’t let me,” Roebuck said. “He thought I could do better.”3

Roebuck did do better. He signed with the Dodgers in 1949 after he graduated from Brownsville (Pennsylvania) High School, and the fun started for the 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander in 1949 with Newport News, a Class B team in the Brooklyn Dodgers chain. Roebuck’s first two minor-league seasons were nondescript. His WHIP (walks plus hits allowed divided by innings pitched) hovered around 1.7 (1.2 is considered good). He lost a lot more than he won, and he walked about one batter for every inning pitched. Then suddenly it turned around with Elmira in the Class A Eastern League in 1951. Roebuck’s ERA dropped from 3.71 with three teams in 1950 to 2.47 in 1951, his WHIP shrank to 1.28, and his walks dropped to about three per nine innings.

“That year I went from trying to overpower hitters to making the ball move,” Roebuck said. “I started to understand that I should be able to pitch to both sides of the plate and that I had a natural sinker when I reduced speed for a bigger break.”

Roebuck married his wife, Janice, during the 1951 season. “Don Zimmer and I got married on the same day. He got married at home plate, and Janice and I got married in a church. She wanted no part of a home-plate ceremony,” Roebuck recalled.

From Elmira, Roebuck’s path through the Dodger chain was a straight line up. He spent the next three seasons at Triple-A Montreal in the International League, which was the Dodgers’ top farm team at the time, winning more games each season. He proved to the Brooklyn brass that he could handle top minor-league competition by maintaining the statistical success he enjoyed at Elmira and leading the International League in wins in 1954 (18-14 with a 3.07 ERA). Roebuck said he played in Cuba that winter and went 13-7 there; leading that league in wins as well. By the spring of 1955 the evaluations of Rex and Joe Bowen who scouted Ed at Brownsville (Pennsylvania) High School were confirmed when Roebuck made the big team.

“Buzzie (Bavasi, Dodgers GM) called me into the office when we got to Brooklyn after spring training to tell me I made the team and have me sign a contract for the minimum, which was about $5,500 then,” Roebuck remembered. “We also agreed at that point that if I stuck for 30 days I would get a $250 bonus.

“Right before the All-Star break I went to see Buzzie to remind him that I had lasted longer than 30 days and was due my bonus. Buzzie then told me that they didn’t give those bonuses anymore because they had given one to Clyde King and he didn’t win a game the rest of the season. So in my case, they didn’t give me a bonus, and I didn’t win a game the rest of the season.”

Indeed, at the All-Star break Roebuck was 5-5 in 34 games and had pitched in 17 Dodgers wins. His ERAs for April, May, and June were 1.00, 2.42, and 2.45 respectively. His ERAs the next three months ballooned to 7.15, 16.62, and 7.36, and he finished at five wins and six losses, with an ERA of 4.62 for the season. “As I cooled off, (Clem) Labine took off,” said Roebuck. “My hot start allowed Labine to rest, and his curveball was better later in the season.”

Roebuck made one appearance in the 1955 World Series, the first and only Series won by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He faced eight batters in two innings and allowed one single in the sixth game, which the Dodgers lost, 5-1, in Yankee Stadium. His ring “looks like a high school graduation ring,” Roebuck said. “I’m afraid to wear it because the blue part is crumbling. I got a Red Sox ring in 2004 (Roebuck was a scout), and it looks like it came from Tiffany’s. The value in my Dodger ring is that it’s the first and only Brooklyn championship ring. I’ve been offered huge amounts of money for it, and it’s not because of how it’s made or what it looks like.”

The 1955 title was the highlight of Roebuck’s Brooklyn years, though not the end of his productivity.

He had a strong first half in 1956 and finished with a record of 5-4 and a 3.67 ERA. He increased his strikeout total to six per nine innings from 3.5 the season before. Despite falling off in the second half, Ed pitched well when called on in the 1956 World Series, facing 14 batters in three games and yielding one hit, a 440-foot solo home run by Mickey Mantle. He struck out Mantle twice, did not walk a batter, and did not figure in a decision. His ERA in the two World Series (4⅓ innings) was 1.47, all in Dodgers losses. Pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen (44 games, one start), he was considered the Dodgers’ top pitcher during the second half of the 1957 season with a 1.39 ERA over the final three months. Still, in all three of his Brooklyn seasons there was a disturbing pattern of one hot half and one cold half.

“With the Dodgers there was always the feeling that if you weren’t doing the job you would be replaced and that would weigh on you when you weren’t going well,” Roebuck said. The Dodgers’ pitching coach at the time was former catcher Joe Becker. According to Roebuck, Becker was not a proponent of mechanical tinkering.

“There wasn’t any emphasis on fundamentals or teaching,” Roebuck said of Becker’s approach. “He just ran us as hard as he could from foul pole to foul pole. He didn’t teach deliveries. He just believed if our legs were in shape then everything else would take care of itself.”

In 1958 the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. The Roebucks by then included son Eddie, born in 1954. They took the opportunity of the move to build a home in the then-developing Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood. One week after the home was completed Roebuck headed for spring training and soon thereafter came up with a sore shoulder.

“I never had a sore arm before 1958,” he said. “I had always pitched winter ball until I wasn’t allowed to after 1957 because the rules at the time wouldn’t allow it for major leaguers with three years in the league. The layoff between seasons led to a buildup of scar tissue that I couldn’t tear free in spring training.”

Roebuck was able to get by for a while. He had an ERA of 2.67 on June 17 but by July 19 it had risen to 3.68. He gave up nine earned runs in 11 innings during that 32-day period, and the pain in his shoulder became too much to bear. His season ended, and Bavasi saved his bosses some money by getting Roebuck to go on the voluntarily retired list.4

The Dodgers invited Roebuck to spring training in 1959, but again the arm failed to respond. His hitting, though, was good enough that Bavasi offered him a chance to play first base for St. Paul in the Triple-A American Association. According to Roebuck, the stretching and the catches of awkward throws demanded at first base eventually loosened the scar tissue and the adhesions that had built up through the lack of use. Roebuck wound up pitching in 28 games for the Saints, all starts, and pitched 200 innings, allowing only four home runs (he hit five himself) with a WHIP of 1.337 and an ERA of 2.98. Roebuck then continued as a starter with Escogido in the Dominican Republic and went 11-0. The other 15 big-league clubs passed on Roebuck in the minor-league draft, and he was back in spring training with the Dodgers in 1960. As for his new home in Lakewood, he rented it to Pee Wee Reese for the 1959 season when Reese coached third base. Roebuck moved back in when he returned to the Dodgers in 1960. (Reese had accepted a job in his native Kentucky with the Louisville Slugger Company.)

“I felt very comfortable that I could make the team in 1960,” Roebuck said. “The long spring gave (manager Walter) Alston and Becker a pretty good look at me. Chuck Dressen was managing Milwaukee that spring, and when reporters asked him why the Braves didn’t draft me he said, ‘We would have if I’d seen him pitch.’ Apparently, the scouts didn’t like the way I was throwing in winter ball.”

Everyone liked how Roebuck threw in 1960 for the Dodgers. Appearing in 58 games, he had a WHIP of 1.26, his ERA was 2.78, and his eight wins and eight saves were evidence that Alston used him in high-leverage situations. However, Roebuck was denied winter ball after the 1960 season, his arm went bad again in 1961, and again he went on the voluntarily retired list. This time, though, Bavasi allowed him to enter a rookie ball program run by Dodgers scout Ken Meyers.

“Ken Meyers is the best baseball man I ever met,” Roebuck said. “I went through his program of throwing through the shoulder pain and stretching scar tissue. He got me back to the big leagues.”

Roebuck appeared in five late-season games for the Dodgers in 1961, the first on September 12. After a rocky first outing against Philadelphia, Roebuck pitched six innings in his final four appearances, allowed just two earned runs and received credit for two wins.

Roebuck’s roller coaster was pointing up again in 1962, at least until the very end. He pitched so well that he received the only two MVP votes of his career while fashioning a 10-2 record, a 1.3 WHIP, and an ERA that would have been under 3.00 save for a disastrous final outing against the San Francisco Giants that decided the National League Pennant.

“I pitched in all three playoff games, the first two without allowing a run. I relieved (Johnny) Podres in the sixth inning of the third game with the bases loaded and no outs and got out of it by getting the shortstop (Jose Pagan) to hit into a force at home and then (Juan) Marichal hit into a double play. The next inning Tommy Davis hit a two-run homer and we had the lead [3-2]. We added on and had a two-run lead going into the ninth.

“I went out there and Matty Alou singled. Alston came out to the mound to ask me how we were going to approach (right-hand hitter Harvey) Kuenn. I said, ‘Walter, he usually pulls me.’ Alston noted that Kuenn went the other way a lot, but I insisted that he was most likely to pull the ball against me. Finally (shortstop Maury) Wills said, ‘Get him to hit it to me and we’ll get a double play.’ Sure enough, I got Kuenn to hit a perfect two-hopper to Wills, but someone on the bench had moved (second baseman Larry) Burright into the hole towards first, which you never do when a double play is in order, and he didn’t get there in time to turn it.”

 Then Roebuck pitched around McCovey, who walked, and Felipe Alou also drew a base on balls, “on a close (3-and-2) pitch,” Finally, Roebuck said, “Mays hit a liner to me, not too hard, and I closed my glove a bit too soon and it squirted out. That would have been a double play, too. Then Walter brought in Stanley (Williams) and all hell broke loose.”

Roebuck was charged with four runs (three earned) and the loss, as the Giants went on to the World Series to face the New York Yankees, and the Dodgers went home. The effects carried over to 1963. “The end of the 1962 season left a terrible mark on me,” Roebuck said. “I started off badly in 1963 and wasn’t being used much. I wasn’t getting any encouragement from Alston or Becker, and I felt like the handwriting was on the wall that I was on my way to the old garbage dump.”

“I told (Dodgers Vice President) Red Patterson that I couldn’t take it anymore because I knew he would tell Buzzie. Buzzie met with me and insisted that I was part of the family and that I was safe for that season and there would be a place for me in the organization when I was done playing. I insisted that I wanted to pitch. I asked to be traded to Washington. Hodges had just taken over as manager, and I idolized Gil. Zimmer was there, and Don and I were great friends. It felt like home.”

In Roebuck’s last five outings for the Dodgers in 1963 he surrendered 10 runs (nine earned) in just 7⅓ innings, so perhaps management was justified in not pitching him more often. His last game with Los Angeles was on July 21, Roebuck said he met with Bavasi on July 29, and a waiver trade to Washington for Marv Breeding was made the next day.

Roebuck’s treatment by the Dodgers had been mixed. While they did give him repeated chances to come back from his arm trouble, they also asked him twice to go on the voluntarily retired list against his wishes. And, according to Roebuck, he had to start over with his salary level every time he came back. “I didn’t return to the minimum, but it was pretty close,” he said. It was probably time for a separation.

With the Senators, Roebuck’s fortunes improved immediately. He gave up just one run in his first 10 innings and finished the American League portion of his season with a winning record and a respectable ERA of 3.30. And while his WHIP with the 1963 Senators was high at 1.60, it had been 1.86 with the Dodgers.

Roebuck had his last outstanding major-league season in 1964 with the Philadelphia Phillies. His WHIP in 77 innings was a career-best 1.03 as he allowed just 55 hits and 25 walks. He posted a 2.21 ERA, won five games, and saved 12. He pitched four times during the team’s 10-game losing streak near the end of that season that cost it the pennant, and was scored upon just once while not being charged personally for any of the team’s losses.

The 1964 Phillies’ season along with the 1962 Dodgers’ collapse gave Roebuck what he called “an unwanted record” for one player’s season-ending heartbreak, with apologies to Duke Snider of the 1951 and 1962 Dodgers. By 2009 Roebuck was philosophical. “Gene (Mauch, the Phillies’ manager) didn’t have a team to be where it was. The 1964 Phillies were not a pennant-winning-caliber team. If the season lasted long enough that would have eventually shown. By the end we were just trying to hang on. Gene did a great job to have us where we were. During those last two weeks I kept thinking ‘Oh no, somebody stop this thing.’ We were losing every crazy which way you could by then.”

A bad arm and fear of professional stagnation cost Roebuck World Series championships with the 1959 and 1963 champion Dodgers. That, plus near misses in 1962 and 1964, couldn’t help but make Roebuck scratch his head. “It bothered me quite a bit in 1959, but Norm Sherry, Larry Sherry, and Roger Craig came by the house to share it with me a little when they got back from (the Dodgers’ victorious World Series in) Chicago, and that made me feel better. In 1963 I asked to be traded. The 1962 season left a terrible mark, while in 1964 we just weren’t good enough.”

Roebuck also had some interesting off-the-field experiences during his playing career. Two of his roommates were Sandy Koufax and Bo Belinsky, who surprisingly had something in common besides throwing no-hitters at Chavez Ravine in 1962. Neither liked to talk about baseball. “Sandy was an educated, high-class guy. He was always in the room. I was never in the room. I would be down in the bar talking pitching with the other guys on the staff; he would be listening to opera. He left baseball at the ballpark.” Roebuck was with the Dodgers during most of Koufax’s well-known struggles from 1955 through 1960, yet no one wondered why he remained on the staff after his bonus period ended. “Everyone could see there was greatness in him if he could just find home plate,” Roebuck said.

Belinsky’s interest in the game, according to Roebuck, was to use it as a way to get into something bigger. “Mauch assigned him to room with me in 1965 hoping what I knew about pitching would rub off on him. We hardly ever talked about that. Instead, the phone would ring in the room at 3 A.M. and it would be some Hollywood starlet in town looking for Bo.”

The 1965 season was Roebuck’s last full year in the big leagues. “Mauch changed the ballclub after ’64,” he said. “We added Dick Stuart and Belinsky, among others. We had a lot of old vets on their last legs and we lacked drive. It was tough to come back after what happened in 1964. It also showed how we played over our heads most of that season. The 1965 season in Philadelphia also made me give the Dodgers a lot more credit for the way they came back in 1963.”

Roebuck had a so-so season in an environment that by 1965 was increasingly favorable to pitchers. His WHIP was just about 1.4, he gave up more hits than innings pitched, his ERA-plus was just a tick over average at 102, and he was trusted enough to earn only three saves.

After a few games with the Phillies in 1966, Roebuck was dispatched to San Diego, where he finished his playing career with the Pacific Coast League Padres in 1966 and 1967. In that final season, Roebuck contributed to a PCL championship club under Bob Skinner. The Padres beat Tom Lasorda’s powerhouse Spokane club in the playoffs. As a final memento for his playing career, Roebuck earned a PCL championship ring and a bonus of “maybe $500.” By contrast, he earned $9,768.21 as his winner’s share for the 1955 World Series and $6,934.34 as his loser’s share in 1956.

Roebuck left baseball renowned as one of its finest fungo hitters. One of his hobbies as a child was hitting stones with a stick or a club by himself. This turned out to be great training for such feats as hitting the eagle atop the scoreboard at the first Busch Stadium, hitting a ball over the roof at Forbes Field, hitting the center-field wall at the Polo Grounds, and whacking a ball into the colonnaded end of the Los Angeles Coliseum. For that feat, Alston fined Roebuck $75.

“There is a funny story regarding how I got that $75 back. The architect designing the Astrodome asked Walter O’Malley how to figure how high to make the roof. O’Malley promised to find out how high his good fungo hitter, which was me, could hit one.

“On the breakfast line at Vero, O’Malley approached me and asked me how high I could hit a fungo. I said, ‘I guess about 200 feet in the air, sir.’ At the end of the workouts that day, Mr. O’Malley had me report to Field 4, where I hit a bunch of fungoes until he was satisfied. When I finished he asked me, ‘How much did Alston fine you for hitting the ball out of the Coliseum?’ I told him $75, and a few weeks later a batboy came to the bullpen in spring training with a bag filled with $75 in quarters, which he said were from Mr. O’Malley.”

Later, Roebuck said, Philadelphia sportswriter Larry Merchant arranged for him to hit fungoes straight up at the Astrodome while the major leagues’ first indoor ballpark was under construction. Roebuck made officials nervous when he hit the roof support girders several times. However, Roebuck said he assured them that hitters in a game couldn’t hit them that high. “I was reminded of all this when punters were hitting the scoreboard at Cowboy Stadium.”

Roebuck said he could have pitched in 1968 (indeed, his 1967 WHIP in the Pacific Coast League was less than 1.0 in 56 innings), but instead accepted an offer to become a scout for the Atlanta Braves. He remained in scouting until 2006, working successively for the Braves, Dodgers, Reds, Pirates, and Red Sox.

Roebuck said one of the highlights of his scouting career was signing catcher Jason Kendall, a first-round selection (23rd pick) of the Pirates in 1992. Kendall played 15 major-league seasons.

Ed and Janice retired in the same house in Lakewood that they had built when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. They raised three sons there, Eddie born in 1954, Walter born in 1962, and Ron born in 1964.

“I have no complaints,” he said of his baseball career. “I had a good time.”

Last revised: August 27, 2014

 

This biography is included in the book "The Year of the Blue Snow: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies" (SABR, 2013), edited by Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Sources

Interview with Ed Roebuck by telephone, done by the author on December 14, 2009.

Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers Yearbooks, 1956-1963.

Ed Roebuck” booklet, Meet the Dodger Family, Union Oil Company 1960, Los Angeles

(Meet the Dodger Family was a series of booklets produced by Union Oil Company, from 1960 through 1963, and distributed at Union Oil gasoline stations in the Los Angeles area.

Rossi, John P. The 1964 Phillies: The Story of Baseball’s Most Memorable Collapse. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1995.

Major League Baseball Official World Series Program, 1955.

The Sporting News Official World Series Record Book, The Sporting News Publishing Company, St. Louis, 1979.

In addition to the sources listed above, the author also accessed www.baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org

 

Notes

2 ibid.

3 Telephone interview with Ed Roebuck on December 14, 2009.

4 Meet the Dodger Family, Ed Roebuck.

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