Thursday, July 19, 2012

#402 - Jim Rooker

This may be my least favorite card of Jim Rooker. With no smile, he appears to still be in his Kansas City mode where he had reasons to frown. But ’73 was the start of a good run for Jim with his new Pirates team. He won double figures for the first time in three years and did it this time with a winning record. Plus his ERA improved by about a run over his KC days and he topped out that year in saves with five. On top of all that he hit .245, channeling his past outfielder days. So he should have been happy at Shea. He would give us a big smile on his ’75 card so maybe it just took a year to all get absorbed.

Jim Rooker was born in Oregon and by the time he was signed by the Tigers out of high school in 1960 had relocated to Illinois. An outfielder with pretty good speed and a gun for an arm, Jim kicked off things at that position that summer in D ball, hitting .220. He then upped it to .268 at that level the next year with a league-leading 13 triples. Jim was a pretty free swinger and his K totals would be pretty high. In ’62 he hit .281 with 16 homers and 80 RBI’s, along with 27 stolen bases from the leadoff spot. In ’63 he finally moved up to A ball where he pretty much replicated his prior year’s numbers and again led his league in triples. But strikeouts were still a problem and the next year the grand experiment began as his offensive numbers slid to .215 split between A and Double A and he went 3-4 at the lower level with a high ERA. ’65 was a developmental year and then in ’66 he went 12-5 in A ball with a 2.05 ERA. ’67 was a good year split between Double and Triple A and in ’68 he went 14-8 with a 2.61 ERA and an IL-leading 206 strikeouts in 190 innings in Triple A. Those numbers got him a few innings up top with the Tigers in their Series season.

After the ’68 season Rooker either got sold or traded for reliever John Wyatt to the Yankees. Shortly thereafter he was selected by the Royals in the expansion draft. After going 2-0 in two starts in both Single A and Triple A early in the season he moved up to KC for his official rookie season at age 26. While his ERA pretty much matched that of the AL, he only went 4-16. His highlight for the year was probably the two dingers he hit off Jim Kaat in a game; he was the first Royal to turn that trick. In ’70 he improved markedly by winning ten and chopped some numbers off his ERA but the momentum was short-lived as a poor start to his ’71 season ad inconsistencies the next couple years got him thrown in the pen and the minors, although ’72 was significantly better than the earlier year. After the season he was traded to Pittsburgh for reliever Gene Garber.

After Rooker’s ’73 revival he was rewarded with a regular spot in the rotation that he would hold onto the rest of his stay on the team. His ’74 would be one of his best seasons as he went 15-11 with a 2.78 ERA and hit .305. He then pitched well in a start against the Dodgers in the playoffs. He then averaged 14-9 records a season the next three years, all with quite good ERA’s. In ’78 his ERA popped a run, as his walks topped his strikeouts and he went 9-11. That continued into ’79 when he went 4-7 and his starts were reduced to 17 when he really couldn’t get it going. But he got some Series work and did well, giving up only one run in nine innings, five of them in a surprise start. In ’80 he got off to a pretty good start but hurt his arm in his fourth game and was unable to pitch thereafter, ending his career. Jim finished with a 103-109 record, a 3.46 ERA, 66 complete games, 15 shutouts, and seven saves. He hit .201 with seven homers and went 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA in 19 post-season innings.

Rooker stayed busy after playing. He auditioned for a Pirates announcing job and became the regular radio color guy from ’81 to ’93. He famously indicated in a game in ’89 in which the Pirates took a 10-0 lead in the first inning against the Phillies that he would walk home if Pittsburgh lost. They did and he ended up raising $81,000 for a local hospital when after the season he walked from Philly to Pittsburgh in five days. He also started a restaurant in the Pittsburgh suburbs that he continued to run after he finished announcing and visited about once a month after he moved to Florida in 2006. Shortly after that, missing his grandkids, he authored a series of children’s books with a baseball theme and, building on that, became involved in some local charity work on behalf of kids with cancer. He currently resides in the Jacksonville area.

 Most of the back stuff was covered up front. I believe he is the first guy who mentions guns or hunting in his cartoon.

Jim and Elliott nearly played together up top and did so in the minors:

 1. Rooker and Lou Piniella ’69 to ’72 Royals;
 2. Piniella and Elliott Maddox ’74 to ’76 Yankees.  

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