November 28th, 2013

November 28 – Happy Birthday Roxey Roach

Roach2His real name was Wilbur Roach, but he eventually became known better by the nickname “Roxey.” A native Pennsylvanian, Roach seems to have also been a pretty astute businessman and before Ted Williams came along, perhaps the the best fly-fishing ball player ever born.

He started playing minor league ball in 1906, when he was already 23-years-old. He made his big league debut with the 1910 New York Highlanders, a surprisingly good team that would finish 25 games over five hundred that season. That was only good enough for second place, far behind the powerful A’s of Connie Mack.

George Stallings was the skipper of that Highlander ball club and he might have thought Roach had a decent shot at unseating New York’s starting shortstop at the time, the light-hitting John Knight. Roxey appeared in 70 games that year but hit just .214. Mean whiile, Knight had an offensive epiphany, finishing the 1910 season with a .312 batting average, which was about 100 points higher than his lifetime average had been up to that point.

Getting outplayed by Knight was not the only disruption that occurred in Roach’s career that year. George Stallings had suspected that New York’s starting first baseman, Hal Chase was involved with professional gamblers and was throwing games. When he became convinced his suspicions were true, he went to both the League President and the Highlanders’ ownership and demanded Chase be banned. Instead, the team’s owners, who happened to be big gamblers themselves, not only sided with Chase, they fired Stallings and made the first baseman the team’s new manager.

After appearing in just 13 games for New York in 1911, Roach’s contract was sold to a minor league team. Since he owned both a pool hall and a bowling alley back home in Pennsylvania, Roach didn’t need his baseball salary to survive but he kept playing minor league ball and in 1915 signed a contract to play for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. At midseason, however, the Buffalo franchise of the upstart Federal League offered him $1,000 more than the Leafs were paying him and he jumped the team to take the raise.

Roxey's Gray Squirrel Tail

Roxey’s Gray Squirrel Tail

When the Federal League folded, Roach continued playing minor league ball, this time in Louisville. He also continued pursuing his favorite sports, which were fly fishing and hunting. Earlier in his career, he had purchased some land in Michigan to serve as his private fish and game preserve. He moved up there, opened a Ford dealership and pursued his passions. It seems that he was also one of the great fly tiers of all time. Known as “patterns” in the sport, Roxey’s Fox Squirrel Tail and Gray Squirrel Tail fly patterns have become famous worldwide among fly fisherman and are still replicated today.

Roxey was also proficient in another area as well. He fathered 14 children. He suffered a fatal heart attack the day after Christmas in 1947.

Roxey shares his birthday with this former Yankee closer and this one-time Yankee phee-nom.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1910 NYY 70 260 220 27 47 9 2 0 20 15 29 34 .214 .313 .273 .586
1911 NYY 13 48 40 4 10 2 1 0 2 0 6 5 .250 .348 .350 .698
4 Yrs 177 680 608 67 151 31 6 3 54 26 52 73 .248 .311 .334 .645
NYY (2 yrs) 83 308 260 31 57 11 3 0 22 15 35 39 .219 .319 .285 .603
WSH (1 yr) 2 2 2 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 .500 .500 2.000 2.500
BUF (1 yr) 92 370 346 35 93 20 3 2 31 11 17 34 .269 .303 .361 .664
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/28/2013.