Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dinner Interrupted

Preacher Roe held the fork in front of his mouth, poised to take a bite of his Mexican dinner when I interrupted his meal to ask him about Bobby Thomson’s 1951 home run.

I was at the same restaurant in West Plains, Mo., one night in 2006 or 2007 with a friend when he nudged me and said, “There’s Preacher.”

My friend was a teacher at the high school there and Preacher’s son was on the school board. He had met Preacher before and knew my affinity of baseball and its history.

So, I got up and barged in on the former ball player’s meal. I knew I stood a chance of angering him; he was eating dinner after all. I was faced with the option of leaving him alone, or asking him about baseball stuff and either flattering him that I was interested or bothering him.

Sometimes you have to take the chance and roll the dice. The worst that would have happened was a baseball pitcher who played for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1938 to 1954 would think poorly of me. I could live with the odds.

I introduced myself and told him I was a fan of baseball history and said it was an honor to meet him. We talked about his career briefly, all the while his chalupa was cooling on his fork, and then I steered the questions to that 1951 game.

Maybe it’s my career in news that made it easy to do that. I’ve interviewed Bill Clinton twice since he had become president;I asked vice president Dick Cheney’s wife, Ann, once if she actually wrote an article about education she claimed to have penned; and I’ve talked to convicted killers. (I once started an impromptu press conference in front of the judge’s bench with a guy convicted of four counts of capital before the judge even rendered the sentence. My bad.)

Asking Preacher about that home run wasn’t a big deal.

That was the year he won 22 games and lost only 3 and the Dodgers ended up tied with the New York Giants. On Oct. 3, 1951, after the teams split two playoff games, the Dodgers were leading, 4-2, in the bottom of the ninth when Thomson came to bat. Fans know what happened next. He hit the home run, the Giants won 5-4 and Russ Hodges went nuts with his call of “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant...”

And a moment became immortalized while Preacher Roe sat in the bullpen and watched.

When I asked him about the game, I could tell, more than 55 years later, it still bothered him. He said he knew the ball was a home run, despite its low trajectory. “It was hit so hard and low I thought it would knock the fence over,” he said.

He also said he thought the Giants stole Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca’s signs and Thomson knew which pitch was coming. A year later, Joshua Prager wrote his book “Echoing Green,” which substantiated Preacher’s claims.

It was a great moment for me that I’ll always remember. I could have left him to his meal, but I realized it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk with history. I had talked with George Kell a few years earlier about baseball, and I called Ball Four author Jim Bouton once to talk about his book. You have to ignore shyness, and perhaps politeness, to take advantage of those opportunities.

Preacher Roe died in 2008. I’m glad I butted in on his dinner and interrupted.


  1. Loved it & I agree, how can you resist not asking him about 1951, right? I think I may have mentioned it before.. but I actually lived in West Plains,Mo. for a brief period when I was just turning four years old. My father was laid off from Terry Machine (who made parts for GM) in 1979, I believe. He moved down to Missouri to live close to his brother, who lived just outside of West Plains in the country. I remember everything being green outside, and I also remember a scary moment when the sky turned all green as well. My dad later on would tell me how their paper would take almost two days to get a late night final baseball scores. I also remember a big park where we rode our hot wheels bikes around, they made the sidewalks look like roads for kids to enjoy with lights & fake stop signs... pretty cool stuff when your a kid. My father's team in APBA was named the St. Louis Cardinals, and he would go to three straight World Series from 86'-88', winning it all in 1987 in which he had a who's who of 1987 team in Trammell, George Bell, Ozzie Virgil, among others. It's funny, I was really young.. but I remember things of living there for only 6 to 8 months or so... then came back up to Michigan.

  2. Around 1977 or 78, I went to the Don Kessinger baseball camp somewhere in the Missouri bootheel for a week. During that week, an old time ball player came and spoke to us. His name was Preacher Roe. I later found out he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their glory years in the 50s. My knowledge of baseball history wasn't much then, but would grow a lot soon when I got the APBA baseball game in 1978. I wish I knew then what I know now. I would've LOVED to chat with Mr Roe about those days in Brooklyn, playing with PeeWee, Jackie, Duke and Roy, and Skoonj in right field- Carl Furillo, with the cannon arm. I enjoyed your story immensely Kenneth!

  3. I still think the StL Cards have done this to Clayton Kershaw the last two postseasons. ArrrrGGGGHH!!! The Life of a Dodger fan. Hey at least we won a postseason game and got there.
    I replayed this 1951 matchup in Strat-O-Matic, and Dodgers won 4 of 6 in two three game series at Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. With 3 walkoffs in 6 games, one for NY Giants, two for the Dodgers.

    *(I know it may be a bad word, but I had to have the lefty/righty matchups and the outfielder arm ratings)