Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#169 - Steve Rogers

Here is one of the pitchers from the Topps Rookie All-Star Team of '73 (the other is only a few cards away). Steve Rogers had a monster rookie year for the Expos that season and we catch him here at their Daytona Beach site - Thanks, Clay - in the first photo on part of the compound that actually looks like a ballfield. Steve really did start off with a bang. After giving up two runs in an eight inning no-decision in his first start he threw a one-hit shutout for his first win, another shutout in his next start for his second win, and by the time he was 5-3 a few weeks later, four of those wins were shutouts. While things wouldn't always roll that easily for Steve, he would go on to be arguably one of the best Montreal pitchers ever.

Steve Rogers grew up in Missouri where he was a late bloomer in baseball, not even making his high school varsity team until there were two games to go in his junior season. But he improved quickly and during his American Legion season in '67 he was drafted by the Yankees whom he shot down. Instead he went to the University of Tulsa where he grew three inches, pitched very well, and earned a degree in petroleum engineering. He was a first rounder for the Expos in '71 and went right to Triple A where he pitched the next two seasons. He didn't start off too well, going a combined 5-16 with an ERA around 4.00. In winter ball in '72-'73 he had Billy DeMars as a manager. DeMars helped Steve fix his delivery and taught him a rising fastball. Then in '73 spring training he picked up a slider from Cal McLish, the Expos pitching coach. Sent first to Double A Quebec and then Triple A Peninsula to work on his new array of pitches, he posted excellent numbers and that July got called up to Montreal. He responded with a 10-5 record and 1.54 ERA in the rotation, fueling a second-half rally by the Expos that kept them in the race through late September. In addition to making the Topps team he came in second in NL ROY voting.

In '74 Rogers would make his first All-Star team but he got hit with a bit of a sophomore jinx as he went 15-22 with an ERA of 4.46. Part of the reason for the numbers reversal was some subtle changes to his delivery caused by what would turn out to be bone chips in his elbow which wouldn't be discovered and removed until after the '76 season. But in '75 and '76 he would pull his ERA back to the low 3.00's while putting up losing records for some pretty bad teams. In '77 he went 17-16, in '78 he won 13 with a 2.47 ERA, and in '79 he again won 13 and led the league in shutouts with five. In both the later years he was an All-Star. In '80 he stepped things up, winning 16 and in '81, the strike year, he went 12-8 in only 22 starts. He then kicked Philadelphia's butt in the divisional series and threw well against LA in the NL playoffs, but got immortalized by giving up the winning series homer to Rick Monday (overall in the post-season that year he went 3-1 with a 0.98 ERA in four games). In '82 he had his best season, going 19-8 with a 2.40 ERA to lead the league and finishing second in NL Cy Young voting. In '83 he won 17, but by now a nagging shoulder injury was taking its toll and in the next two seasons he would go a combined 8-19 before being released early in '85. After a couple attempts at comebacks with California and the White Sox - both in Triple A - Steve retired. He finished with a record of 158-152 with a 3.17 ERA, 129 complete games, 37 shutouts, and a couple saves. He ultimately made five All-Star teams and is the Montreal/Washington career leader in wins. His post-season work was restricted to the '81 season.

After his playing career ended, Rogers made it back to baseball through consulting work with the Major Leagues Players Association which was a natural step as he'd been a player rep during his time with the Expos. The MLPA hired him in '98 and he continues to work there. He was inducted to Tulsa's hall of fame in the mid-Eighties.

This is a good card back. Steve gets props for his college career, summer ball, rookie year, and military service. His career record at Tulsa was 31-5 with a 2.06 ERA and 327 K's in 301 innings. He was an All-American his senior year and twice led his team to the CWS. The National Baseball Congress Tourney is a summer series held in or around Wichita that essentially works as a championship for summer league teams. Other participants in the tourney who've already had posts include Tom Seaver, Rich Troedson, and Johnny Grubb.

Let's use a recently deceased HOF guy to hook up these two:

1. Rogers and Bob Stinson '73 to '74 Expos;
2. Stinson and Harmon Killebrew '75 Royals;
3. Killebrew and Danny Thompson '70 to '74 Twins.

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