Former Dodgers pitcher, four-time All-Star Roe dies

NEW YORK -- Preacher Roe, who began pitching in the Ozarks and became a four-time All-Star as a revered member of "The Boys of Summer" in Brooklyn, has died.

Roe died Sunday in West Plains, Mo., said the funeral home handling the arrangements. His own Web site listed his age as 92 -- other reference materials differed by a year or two.

Roe went 127-84 in a 12-year career with the Dodgers, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. But it was in Brooklyn, where he played alongside the likes of Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Ralph Branca and others at Ebbets Field, where he enjoyed his greatest success and acclaim.

Though those Dodgers teams of the 1940s and 1950s won only one World Series -- Roe was part of three teams that lost to the New York Yankees -- they became a beloved part of the borough. And Roe, a skinny left-hander and mathematics teacher from a small town in Arkansas, was among the fan favorites in the big city.

"He enjoyed playing the role of a country bumpkin, but he wasn't one," Branca recalled by phone Monday night. "He was real smart and real crafty on the mound.

"He threw two pitches, a slider and his 'Beech-Nut slider.' Beech-Nut was a gum we all chewed back then. He knew how to use that juice to get that ball all wet," he said.

After retiring, Roe admitted in a Sports Illustrated story that he had benefited for years by throwing a spitball.

Like his age, there was no pinning down exactly how Elwin Charles Roe got his nickname. According to one family story, he dubbed himself "Preacher" at a young age because he admired a local preacher.

Branca remembered it differently.

"We all called him 'Preacher' because he could talk your ear off," he said. "If there was no one around, he would talk to the wall."

Roe led the NL in strikeouts in 1945 with Pittsburgh. He posted his best season in 1951, going 22-3 for the Dodgers -- he did not, however, start in the three-game pennant playoff with the New York Giants, capped by Bobby Thomson's famous home run.

Roe helped put the Dodgers into the World Series in 1949, 1952 and 1953. He started a game in each of those matchups with the Yankees, going 2-1 and completing all three outings.

Known for his sharp control, Roe finished with a career 3.43 ERA and pitched 101 complete games.

Roe made his big league debut with St. Louis in 1938 and pitched only once for the Cardinals. He spent the next several years in the minors and returned to the majors with Pittsburgh in 1944.

Roe's path stalled for a few years following a brawl back home in Arkansas. He was coaching a girls' high school basketball team, got into a dispute with a referee and, according to local stories, wound up with a fractured skull.

"He wouldn't fly with us," Branca said. "It made his head hurt. He always took the train."

The Pirates traded Roe, infielder Billy Cox and reserve Gene Mauch to Brooklyn for former star outfielder Dixie Walker and two other players after the 1947 season.

Roe retired after going 3-4 in 1954 and later owned a grocery store in West Plains. He often attended the Dodgers' adult baseball camps at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla.

"Preacher Roe left an indelible mark in Dodger history. He was one of the original 'Boys of Summer' and his success in the World Series against the Yankees in 1949, 1952 and 1953 helped pave the way for the 1955 world champions," Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and team president Jamie McCourt said in a statement.