Rohr-ing Start, Painful End

ROHR-ING START, PAINFUL END

Les Rohr entered the 1965 MLB June Amateur Draft with a lot of hope. His enormous talent, powerful arm and massive frame put him on almost every major league short list of “top prospects.” In fact, the New York Mets acknowledged they had been scouting Rohr since he started high school.

The Mets held their breath as the Kansas City Athletics prepared to make the No. 1 overall pick. Once the word arrived that the A’s had selected Rick Monday, a talented outfielder from Arizona State, the Mets wasted no time, selecting Rohr No. 2 overall, straight out of West High School in Billings, Montana. He accepted a $55,000 deal, including bonuses and was assigned to Williamsport AA), where he made 12 starts, recording a 4-6 record and 1.84 ERA. 

Mets scout John “Red” Murff later told the New York Post:

“He is as impressive as Ray Sadecki when the Cardinals signed him. [Rohr] strikes out everyone, and his own catcher is in danger of being injured. He should be a 20-game winner in the big leagues in a few years.”

Two years later, Rohr made his major league debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 19, 1967. In his first start, Rohr pitched six innings, allowing two earned runs and six hits, while striking out six to record his first major league win. He made two more starts over the final two weeks of the 1967 season including eight innings of shutout baseball, again beating the Dodgers, and Don Drysdale, 5-0.

In 2006, he reflected on that performance, telling MLB.com:

“That was something else, to pitch against someone like Drysdale and have a great game like that. I thought I was on my way after that.”

Little did Rohr know, but it would be the last time he’d win a professional game.

After making the Mets Opening Day roster in 1968, Rohr claimed he suffered an injury just three weeks into the season while pitching in a 24-inning game at the Astrodome. Prior to the game, Rohr threw a 20-minute batting practice session. Tom Seaver and Don Wilson started the game and pitched a scoreless tie into extra innings. Mets manager Gil Hodges called on Rohr in the 22nd inning of what was still a scoreless game.

Rohr held the Astros scoreless until the 24th inning until Norm Miller led off with a single, was balked to second base and scored the winning run on an infield error by Mets shortstop Al Weis. Coincidentally, the run scored on a bad infield hop that led to a Major League Baseball rule change that required the ground crews would drag the infield every seven innings, regardless of how long the game lasted.

Rohr said his arm “swelled up” after the game. Six days later, Rohr made his final start of the season at Shea Stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched into the fourth inning, allowing three runs, eight hits and three walks before being removed. 

After missing most of the 1968 and 1969 seasons, Rohr was recalled from Triple-A on September 7, 1969. He made his first major league appearance in almost two seasons against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Shea Stadium on September 19, allowing four runs and five hits in 1 1/3 innings of relief.

It was Rohr’s final major league game.

After the Mets won their first World Series, Rohr was optioned to Tidewater and later sold to the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I am very proud,” Rohr told his hometown newspaper years later. “I had (coach) Yogi Berra catching me in the bullpen. I mean, Warren Spahn was my pitching coach. Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges were my managers … I’ve got no hard feelings about anything. I was just happy to be there. I gave my life to baseball. I gave up everything else, I’m not kidding you, just to play ball because I loved it so much.”

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