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
"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."
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
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."
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
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
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
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