Touring The Bases With…Jim Rooker
Southpaw pitcher Jim Rooker made his major league debut on June 30, 1968 with the eventual world champion Detroit Tigers and spent 13 years in the bigs with the Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirate before making his final appearance on May 2, 1980. A year earlier, Rooker was a member of the “We Are Family” Pirates team that overcame a three games to one deficit to the Baltimore Orioles to win the 1979 Fall Classic. He appeared in two games in that series, pitching in relief in Game 1 and starting Game 5, and posted a nifty 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings. He retired with a record of 103-109 and a solid 3.49 career ERA.
Q: What was it like to put on a major league uniform?
A: It was the ultimate; I loved baseball ever since the Cub Scout age. I played but wasn’t ever the superstar on the team. My friend since Little League was Lindy Kurt; he was the reason that I got signed. The Tigers were scouting him and I hit a home run in a game that the scouts came to. We both were signed by Detroit. We are still very good friends; I go out to California to visit him and Skype with him occasionally. The first batter I faced was Leon Wagner of the Angels. (Editor’s Note: Jim’s memory is pretty good, but not perfect. Wagner was actually the third batter he faced. The first batter he ever faced was Sandy Alomar, who singled, stole second and third, and scored on a hit by Wagner).
Q: Your first team was the 1968 Detroit Tigers, was there anyone in particular who took you under their wing and offered advice?
A: It had to be Johnny Sain, the team’s pitching coach. He talked about pitching. It didn’t matter whether you were Denny McLain or Mickey Lolich or just a minor league call-up. He talked to you like a pitcher. Then when I went to the Kansas City Royals, it was Cookie Rojas the second baseman. Cookie would always bring up Dave McNally, who was also a left-hander and threw a sinker ball like me. Cookie would tell me that I had better stuff than McNally but the difference was that he knew how to pitch.
(Jim and I had an extended conversation about our belief that today’s young pitchers are not well conditioned to pitch, especially for nine innings. Johnny Sain always stated that the way a pitcher became conditioned to pitch nine innings was to pitch nine innings.)
Q: Was there anyone you helped when you became a vet?
A: Steve Nicosia and Donnie Robinson. They were serious about the game and wanted to improve.
Q: What were some of the highlights of your career?
A: It would have been a no-hitter in Yankee Stadium (the first since Don Larson in 1956) in 1970. But Horace Clarke broke it up in the ninth and Bobby Murcer hit a sac fly in the 12th to win it 1-0. (Editor’s Note: Again, Jim’s memory is very good, but still not perfect. On June 4, 1970 Rooker had a no-hitter going into the bottom of the ninth at Yankee Stadium, but Clarke broke it up with a lead-off single. Murcer followed with a double to tie the game at 1-1, then Clarke lofted a sacrifice fly off Moe Drabowsky in the bottom of the 12th for a 2-1 Yankees win).
Q: What was it like to win the 1979 World Series?
A: It was the ultimate. It’s what you dream about since Little League.
Q: As a broadcaster, I can still remember you making the statement: “If we lose this one, I’ll walk back to Pittsburgh.”
A: What I actually meant was, we hadn’t won a game on that particular road trip and if you are going to win one, this is the one you want to win. (Pirates scored 10 runs in the first inning). Harry Kalas heard my comment and go a big kick out it, especially after the game, which the Phillies won.
Q: After reading some excerpts from your books, you seem like a natural. What influenced you to write them?
A: I have eight grandchildren and one time when I was in Pittsburgh visiting a grandchild, I thought, what could I do special for my grandchildren? Then it came to me, I could write a book. I wanted to blend my love of baseball with their level of reading. The books stress the positive, such as teamwork. They are board books and they rhyme. “Hello my name is Paul and I am a baseball.”
My grandson Shane has memorized the words to all three.
Q: How can someone purchase the books?
A: There are 3 books out so far, with a fourth on deck called Fletcher the Catcher. You buy them individually or as a set.
- PAUL THE BASEBALL, ISBN 9781934878712
- MATT THE BAT, ISBN 9781934878729
- KITT THE MITT, ISBN 9781934878729
They all cost $9.95 and are published by Mascot Books. You can find them on Amazon.
You can also contact Jim on Twitter: @JROOKER19
Or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim would like for his books to become a part of the baseball community with hopes of invigorating a love for baseball and giving kids something fun to read!
Jim remembers a book from his childhood called “The Little Train that could.” It was originally published in 1930 and is still published.