Friday, November 18, 2011

#278 - Cookie Rojas

This bespectacled guy is the latest Cuban - we've seen a pretty good amount of those - in the set. Cookie here is staring down the end of his bat in what looks like the Royals spring training facility while a teammate or coach seems to be nodding off behind him. My guess is that it's Galen Cisco. It's a pretty beautiful day but only one fan is out and he may even be a team executive, given the hat. Sometimes playing ball back in the early Seventies had to be a self-motivating experience.

Cookie Rojas played ball since he was a kid in Cuba and was discovered by a Reds scout while playing for the amateur Fortuna team there after high school. Signed in '56 he kicked off his career in D ball that summer and hit .275. He also collided with a catcher's shin guard that year while sliding home which resulted in blurred vision and the need to wear glasses. He wasn't much of a hitter in the minors and wound through the Reds' system pretty slowly, finally putting up a decent average - .265 - in '61 at Triple A. He began '62 at that level as well and by season's end got into a few games at second for Cincinnati. After the season he was sent to the Phillies for Jim Owens.

The Phillies would keep Rojas up top. When he was traded there Cookie thought Tony Taylor would be moved to third and he be given the starting job at second but the Phillies had also picked up Don Hoak from the Pirates to play third so in '63 Cookie warmed the bench an awful lot. '64 started off the same but when he finally got a chance to play in May he fielded pretty well and hit at an over .500 clip as the team began its big pennant run. That and his ability to play anywhere in the field got him into the lineup for good and despite the team's big fade that season, Cookie ended up hitting over .290 with only 17 strikeouts for the season. The next year he became the regular second baseman, hit over .300, and got his first All-Star nod. He continued to also play lots of outfield the next couple seasons as well as winter ball. In '67 he played almost exclusively at second and then that winter took off from ball as he would the following season. Unfortunately both those moves dovetailed with his two worst regular seasons in '68 and '69. He also injured his leg the second season and following it Cookie was part of the big trade that moved him, Dick Allen, and Jerry Johnson to the Cards for Curt Flood - who refused to report and was replaced by Willie Montanez - Joe Hoerner, and Tim McCarver. Cookie was a throw-in in the deal as the Phillies thought he was done at age 30. The Cards thought so too and after playing very little he was sent to the Royals in June of '70 for Fred Rico.

That trade turned out to be a steal for Kansas City. Until then the Royals had a revolving door at second base during their short history. But Cookie stepped in, fielded well, and hit .260, his highest average since '66. When Fred Patek arrived the next season the two of them provided solid middle infield play for the next five seasons. In '71 Cookie was third in the AL in hitting at the All-Star break and made the squad, at the time becoming only the ninth guy to do so for both leagues. He got a hairline fracture in his leg later that season which pulled his average down to .300 before he missed the rest of the season. He would be an All-Star the next three seasons as well, his best being '73 when he reached his career high of 29 doubles, 18 stolen bases, and 69 RBIs. In '75 he had his last season as a regular as Frank White replaced him at second. He stuck around as a reserve the next two seasons, finally reaching the playoffs both years. He was released by KC after the '77 season and signed with the Cubs, but didn't play, beginning his new career as a coach. Cookie hit .263 lifetime with 54 homers, 593 RBIs, and only 489 strikeouts in over 6,000 at bats. He hit .308 with two stolen bases in five post-season games.

Rojas has stayed in baseball since his playing career ended. He coached for the Cubs ('78-'81), Angels ('82-'88), Marlins ('93-'96), Mets ('97-2000), and Blue Jays ('01-'02). He also scouted from '88 to '92 and managed twice: for the Angels in '88 and the Mariners in '96 (his managing record is 76-79). Since 2003 he has been a Spanish-language broadcaster for the Marlins.

Cookie also was a '73 All-Star which is a weird thing for Topps to omit. His nickname came from his time as a baby when his mom named him "Coqui" after the native chirping frogs in Cuba.

In the music world in '73 Gary Glitter took over the top spot in the UK with "I Love You Love Me Love" which was, I suppose, a love song. Glitter had one big hit in the States with "Rock-N-Roll" in '72, the mostly instrumental song (it's only line is "Hey!") that has been a favorite at sporting events ever since. Gary would pretty famously get into a bunch of trouble later on regarding his affection toward kids. In '74 on the 17th ABBA began its first world tour, beginning the global popularity that we've been paying for ever since. That's too bad.

These guys were both Reds. but a few years apart:

1. Rojas and Hal McRae '73 to '77 Royals;
2. McRae and Gary Nolan '68 and '70 to '72 Reds.

1 comment:

  1. Rojas also pitched in 1 game for the Phillies in 1967. I recently found a scrapbook I made in 1967 of photos clipped from the sports pages of the Philadelphia newspapers. One of those photos is Cookie on the mound. I'll be featuring these photos on my "1960s baseball" blog in the near future.

    The Cardinals must have planned on a utility role for Cookie, since incumbent 2B Julian Javier was still at the top of his game.