SABR

Stan Rojek

This article was written by Edward Veit.

Late in the afternoon of September 22, 1942, propelled by a Lew Riggs single, pinch-runner Stan Rojek rounded third base and scored a ninth-inning run that sent the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants into extra innings. A five-feet-ten, 170 pound shortstop, appearing in his first major-league game, Rojek found himself in the midst of one of the all-time great pennant races. Three seasons would pass before Rojek got another taste of major-league baseball.

Stanley Andrew Rojek was born on April 21, 1919, in North Tonawanda, New York, located on the Niagara River between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. His parents were Andrzej (later anglicized to Andrew) and Apolonia Rojek. Andrew, a house carpenter, a building contractor and lastly a dairy farmer, was born in Wylawa, Galicia (now part of Poland) and had immigrated in 1905. Stan was the second of three boys and had an older sister, Julia.

After graduating from North Tonawanda High School—where he also played basketball—Rojek played semipro baseball in Western New York. He attracted the attention of Brooklyn scout Dick Fischer and subsequently signed with the Dodgers in 1939. Stan was assigned to the Class D PONY League in Olean, New York, just eighty-four miles south of his home. Rojek hit .320 in Olean, then worked his way through the Brooklyn farm system. He was with the Class C Dayton (Ohio) Wings in 1940 and the Class B Durham (North Carolina) Bulls in 1941. Promoted to Montreal, the Dodgers top farm team, in 1942, he hit .283 and was named to the International League All-Star team. He was a late September call-up to Brooklyn, but got into just the one contest.

The next baseball game Stan Rojek played was a pick-up game in 1943 at the US Army’s Keesler Field in Mississippi. Rojek, like many major and minor leaguers, had been called to serve in World War II. Stan was prime material for the war effort, twenty-four-years-old, single, and in great physical condition.

By July 1945 Rojek was in the Pacific, at Isley Field on Saipan, and playing for the 73rd Bomb Wing Bombers, whose roster included major leaguers Sid Hudson, Tex Hughson, and Mike McCormick. Rojek led the players on the 20th Air Force tour of the Pacific Islands with a .363 batting average and had three home runs.

“The wars years may have retarded the chances of some young players, but I am one of the fortunate,” he told The Sporting News. “I am leaving the Army a better player because I had the experience of playing with and against seasoned major league stars. I played more than 200 games in the Army, and I didn’t do badly.”1

Discharged in December 1945, Rojek looked forward to returning to Brooklyn and earning the starting assignment at shortstop. Unfortunately for him, he was a member of one of the few teams where he could not compete for that role. The Dodgers had future Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese firmly entrenched at short. Rojek served as his backup, getting into just 45 games, hitting .277 (13-for-47).

The right-handed-hitting Rojek made his first major league hit an important one. On May 8, 1946, pinch hitting for pitcher Les Webber, Rojek singled off Reds southpaw Clyde Shoun to drive in the first run of an eventual ninth inning, four-run rally. He stayed in the game to play second base in the bottom of the ninth and had another single in the tenth. Brooklyn and St. Louis famously posted identical records in the ’46 campaign, and Rojek appeared in the first major league playoff game. Stan pinch hit for Kirby Higbe in the top of the fifth inning and drew a free pass. It was his last contribution of the season.

Rojek played in only thirty-two games in 1947, but he started more games than the previous year, filling in for the injured Reese at short and for Eddie Stanky at second. He also played nine games at third. From August 24 through September 1, Rojek was the starting shortstop for all ten games. The Dodgers were 7-3 in that span and Stan batted .314 with six RBIs and made no errors in the field. Overall, he committed only two errors in 116 chances (.983) and hit .263 (21-for-80). He showed very little power, though, managing only one extra base hit.

Stan did not appear in the 1947 World Series but did receive a full share, $4,081, of Brooklyn’s allotment. In November, with the winter meetings and the minor league draft looming, Branch Rickey was looking for roster flexibility. One of his first moves was to shed Rojek and first baseman Ed Stevens. The pair were sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a reported $50,000.

Initially Rojek’s Pirates teammates called him “Reject” because he had been dumped by the Dodgers. He also was called “The Happy Rabbit” because of his projecting front teeth, his attitude, and his quickness in scurrying around shortstop.

The way was cleared for Rojek to secure the everyday shortstop role, when three weeks after his transfer to Pittsburgh, the Pirates shortstop Billy Cox was traded to Brooklyn. With regular work, Rojek flourished. He played shortstop in all of the Pirates’ 156 games as Pittsburgh rose from last place in 1947 to fourth place in 1948. He had twenty-nine errors in 766 chances for a .962 fielding average, slightly better than the league average. He led all shortstops with 475 assists and his ninety-one double plays were second only to Reese’s ninety-three.

New Pittsburgh manager Billy Meyer called Rojek “a pennant-winning shortstop.”2 The leadoff hitter for 153 games, Rojek, who hit .290 with twenty-seven doubles, five triples, four homers and fifty-one RBIs, led the league in plate appearances (713) and at-bats (641). He finished third in the National League in hits (186) and stolen bases (24). Impressively, he finished tenth in the vote for the National League Most Valuable Player. It was by far his best season as a major leaguer.

Rojek probably got much satisfaction in 1948 from the Pirates defeating the Dodgers thirteen times in twenty-two games. On July 25 he had eight hits in nine at-bats as Pittsburgh and Brooklyn split a doubleheader; overall, he hit .323 against his old mates and slugged .444, each well above his season average. Yet in 1949 his offensive statistics declined sharply. On April 27, against the Cardinals, Rojek, who had two hits and scored two runs in the game, was twice hit by a pitch. The second one, in the ninth inning, was a beaning by pitcher Ken Johnson that sent Rojek to the hospital.

Rojek said after the beaning he was never the same. He said his teammates “noted that I was just a fraction of a second hesitant in my swing. It wasn’t that I was afraid. It was just my reaction wasn’t there anymore. And you need every fraction of a second you can get in trying to hit a round ball with a round bat, especially if that ball is thrown some ninety-plus miles per hour.”3 His batting average fell to .244 for the year, and in 1950 he batted .257 in seventy-six games while being platooned with twenty-three-year-old Danny O’Connell. 

Branch Rickey, who had moved from the Dodgers to the Pirates and had cut Rojek’s salary, had promised to give the fun-loving infielder a raise if he married. Stan wed Audrey Moeller, but Rickey failed to pay up, and in May 1951 traded him to the Cardinals for outfielder Erv “Four Sack” Dusak and first baseman Rocky Nelson.

Rojek batted .274 in fifty-one games for the Cardinals, backing up Solly Hemus. In January 1952 the Cardinals sent him on waivers to the St. Louis Browns. With the Browns he played in only nine games, the last one on May 13—his last game in the major leagues—before being sent to Toledo of the American Association. After the season, the Browns sent Rojek to the Dodgers in a deal that brought Billy Hunter to St. Louis. It was not quite full circle for Rojek—he never played for the Dodgers, and spent 1953 through 1955 as a part-time infielder for Dodgers farm clubs in Mobile, Montreal, and St. Paul.

After the 1955 season, the thirty-six-year-old Rojek retired from baseball and joined his brothers Anthony and Theodore in the family’s dairy business in North Tonawanda. In 1961 the three brothers opened Rojek’s Park Manor Bowling Lanes. Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy, a resident of the area, rolled the first ball. Family members said the bowling alley idea more than likely came from Stan Musial, who visited Rojek often. “They were two Polish guys talking and laughing,” commented Rojek’s nephew, Jim Rojek. The brothers operated the bowling alley for twenty-five years.

In June 1977 North Tonawanda renamed Payne Field, a city ballpark, Stan Rojek Field. Rojek is also enshrined in the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame. Stan and his wife were divorced during the 1980s, according to nephew Jim, and she moved to Florida.

Rojek suffered a stroke in 1995. He died on July 9, 1997, in North Tonawanda. He was survived by a son, Bart, a daughter, Betty Valek of Southington, Connecticut, and five grandchildren. Rojek is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Tonawanda.

 

Sources

Roberts, Robin, and C. Paul Rogers, 3rd. The Whiz Kids and the 1950 Pennant, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. p. 88.

Hart, Karla. “Mighty Mouse That’s a Bird.” Baseball Digest, March1953.

Johnson, Vince. “Rojek Delivers The Year Round.” Baseball Digest, October 1948.

Nason, Jerry. “Plate Crowders Ask For It.” Baseball Digest, August 1955.

Nason, Jerry. “Stick It in His Ear.” Baseball Digest, August 1950.

“Anthony Rojek dies; started dairy.” Newspaper article, source unknown.

Brooklyn Eagle, September 23, 1942.

Billoni, Mike. “Stan Rojek Field dedicated today.” Tonawanda (New York) News, June 13, 1977.

Cardinale, Anthony. “Stanley A Rojek dies; played shortstop for 3 major league Teams.” Buffalo News, July 10, 1997.

Rojek, Jim. “Dodger Black.” Unpublished article.

Wiater, Ed. “Rojek was too talented to trade.” Tonawanda (New York) News, May 1997

Wiater, Ed. “Rojek a part of baseball history.” Tonawanda (New York) News, July 10, 1997.

Telephone Interview by author with James Rojek,, August 20, 2010.

Articles from the North Tonawanda History Museum Stan Rojek collection. Stan Rojek collection (http://www.nthistorymuseum.org/Collections/stanleyrojek.html)

 

Notes

1. Cy Kritzer, “Rojek, Pacific Vet, Well-Armed for Dodger Infield Fight,” Sporting News, December 6, 1945.

2. Vince Johnson, “Rojek Delivers The Year Around,” Baseball Digest, October 1948, p.13.

3. Ed Wiater, “Rojek was too talented to trade,” Tonawanda (New York) News, May 1997.

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