Phil Roof

 

Phil Roof has experienced practically every aspect of baseball for more than 50 years.

From his days playing at tiny Paducah St. John High School in the 1950s to 15 years as a major-league catcher to more than 30 years as a coach and manager at various levels, Roof has been a student and teacher of the national pastime.

"In my wildest dreams I never thought I’d be involved in baseball this long after I signed my first contract when I was 18," Roof said, He received a $35,000 signing bonus with the Milwaukee Braves two days after graduating from high school in 1959.

And it’s been a genuine love of the game that has attributed to his longevity.

Big league scouts were in western Kentucky looking at another prospect when they chanced upon Roof, at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, behind the plate at St. John, a school with about 60 students.

"I attended a small school that did not have any other sports facilities, but we enjoyed playing backyard basketball on the school’s only goal," Roof recalled, "and I dominated because of my size."

Roof’s first four years were primarily spent in the minor leagues including 1962 with the Louisville Colonels, a team that lost to the Atlanta Crackers in the Junior World Series.

"I remember very vividly the time I was called up to the Major Leagues with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960," he said. "On April 29, 1961, I made my Major League debut and tagged Jim Davenport in the top of the ninth inning."

His first home run came in 1966, a two-run shot over the center-field fence in the top of the 12th inning that helped the Kansas City A’s beat the Washington Senators, 5-3.

While Roof spent his playing career around home plate, it was behind the plate rather than as a hitter that he earned the most respect. His career batting average was .215, with 43 homers and 210 RBI.

His defensive skills and ability to work with young pitchers earned him a spot through the years with the Braves, A’s, California Angels, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and the Twins.

During those seasons he worked with stars such as Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Sam McDowell, Jim Kaat, Bert Blyleven, and Jim Perry. After getting McDowell to vary the speed of his fastball, the fireballer had consecutive one-hit games of 16 and 15 strikeouts.

"Catfish had the best control of any pitcher I ever caught," Roof said. "Jim Kaat had great control from the left side, and Bert Blyleven has been one of my favorite people."

When his playing career ended in 1977, the doors opened to become a Major League coach and a minor league manager: Eight seasons as a coach with the San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago Cubs.

Fifteen seasons as a minor-league manager in the Twins’ system — compiling a 1,040-971 record, earning Pacific Coast League’s "Manager of the Year" in 2000, and guiding Minnesota’s Triple-A teams to post-season play in four out of nine years.

Among the future stars that played for him were nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter, 2006 MVP Justin Morneau, three-time American League batting champion Joe Mauer, and 1995 Rookie of the Year Marty Cordova.

 Phil  and his wife, Linda, posed a photo after the induction banquet (right).

"It was a thrill for me when I was a Triple A manager to be able to tell kids that they were being called up and were going to play in the Major Leagues," Roof said. "I’d even get goose bumps over it."

"I have had the privilege of being all three, but I would have to say that playing in the Major Leagues is by far the most rewarding position," said Roof, who began this season, at age 70, at interim bullpen coach for the Minnesota Twins. "In one five year period, I caught over four hundred games."

"Phil’s loyalty is matched only by his modesty," wrote Rochester (N.Y.) columnist Jim Mandelaro in his letter nominating Roof to the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. "He is a humble man who has achieved great success in life. Yet he has remained the definition of a gentleman through the highs and lows of baseball, and of life."

Did you ever think you would be involved in baseball at this point in time?
No, I thought my professional baseball career was over in 2005. I did not envision my future plans included being a major league coach at my age.

One of seven 2011 KAHF inductees, Phil Roof had a moment for his daughter (left).

What are your favorite memories in baseball?
I remember many firsts in my career. I remember very vividly the time I was called up to the Major Leagues with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. On April 29, 1961, I made my Major League debut and tagged Jim Davenport in the top of the 9th inning. In 1966, I hit my first Major League homerun with the Kansas City Athletics against the Washington Senators in the top of the 12th inning to win the game 5-3.

Did you ever catch any no-hitters in the majors?
No, I did not have the fortune of catching no-hitters, but I caught several one-hitters.

What do you think attributed to your long playing career?
I believe that being a student of the game, staying physically fit throughout my career, and being a top notch defensive catcher allowed me the opportunity to play professional baseball for many years.

What did you enjoy the most — player, coach or manager?
I have had the privilege of being all three, but I would have to say that playing in the Major Leagues is by far the most rewarding position. In one five year period, I caught over four hundred games. 


Phil Roof (left) poses with a  replica of the brass plaque commemorating his induction as one of seven members of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame's  Class of 2011. With him are KAHF vice president Bob Pace (center) and 1995 Hall of Fame inductee Phil Rollins.

What are your other interests (hobbies, outdoors, etc.) when you’re away from baseball?
I enjoy spending time with my family and traveling. I also enjoy charitable work.

What are your thoughts about being inducted in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame?
I am humbled, honored, and excited to be a member of this select group of athletes.

Who are some of the friendships you made over the years in baseball?
I have had the privilege of making lasting friendships with many players, coaches, and managers including-Jim Kaat, Bert Blyleven, Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew, Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Charlie Manuel, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith, Alvin Dark, and General Manager Roland Hemond.
 

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KAHF ceremony photos by Jim Reed