Ed Roebuck was on top of the world. Well, maybe in the penthouse of the Sears Roebuck Tower, if he can stand another department-store joke. He had realized his dream of making the big leagues and was the only rookie member of the 1955 world champion Brooklyn Dodgers.
Touted for Rookie of the Year honors in that championship season, Roebuck combined with Clem Labine to make up one of the best relief tandems in baseball.
Two more Fireman of the Year-type years, in 1956 and '57, and Roebuck had accomplished much more than his original goal of just staying in the big leagues and collecting a paycheck.
In July 1958, however, the Dodgers' first year in Los Angeles, he suffered an undiagnosed shoulder injury. In those days, there were no arthroscopes and no machines, and surgery was a last resort. "Every time I threw, I felt a sting, a really bad one in my shoulder," Roebuck said.
What was next for Roebuck--the disabled list, a witch doctor, the end of a career? Good pitchers rarely seem to regain their form after a shoulder injury.
But Roebuck, who spent some time on the voluntarily retired list, underwent his own rehabilitation plan. He happened to be an excellent hitter and believed he could make the team at first base while resting his pitching arm.
Roebuck tried it with the Dodgers' Double-A farm club in St. Paul, and it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. On a close play as a first baseman, Roebuck had to make a quick throw. Snap! The adhesions broke loose, and he had his shoulder and sinker back.
"He had what you call a frozen shoulder," Dodger trainer BillBuhler said. "It isn't too common anywhere, even in baseball. It was a miracle cure. That quick throw just did it for him."
Even with the recovery, Roebuck spent the 1959 season at St. Paul, where he had a 13-10 record and a 2.98 earned-run average, and missed another World Series ring. Then, facing a problem that few ballplayers today worry about--he needed money for his new house payments--Roebuck opted for winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
"I wanted to keep my arm in shape, and they paid good money," he said. Roebuck earned the money, posting an 11-0 record.
The Dodgers had casually forgotten that Roebuck was frozen on the St. Paul roster and could be claimed by any club for the minimum of $25,000. No one wanted to take the chance on an injury-plagued pitcher, but Buzzie Bavasi, then the Dodger president, must have shuddered at the thought of someone claiming Roebuck, who when healthy was one of the top relievers in the National League.
"All the scouts were looking at the hard throwers," Roebuck said. "I really didn't expect anyone to sign me."
But the Dodgers brought him back, and in 1960, Roebuck had an 8-3 record and a 2.78 ERA.
"He was one of the best short relief men I've seen in baseball," said Bob Lillis, current manager of the Houston Astros and a member of the 1960 Dodgers.
In 1961, though, Roebuck's shoulder went out again. It was so tender that he could hardly lob the ball, and his arm ached all over. Roebuck tried, with extreme pain, to throw it back into shape. The only result was inflammation and some internal bleeding. He was later diagnosed as having acute and chronic adhesive capsulitis of the right shoulder.
Roebuck was placed on the disabled list and then assigned as a scout, and it seemed that his playing career had ended. But he wouldn't stop. It had taken three spring trainings to make the Dodgers, and he had come back from a shoulder injury before, so why not again?
"They didn't really explain to me what I had then," he said. "I just kept throwing with pain and used my own judgment."
Dodger scout Ken Myers worked with Roebuck on stretching exercises and throwing. "I didn't want them to operate," Roebuck said. "Once they cut into your shoulder, it's tough to return. The scar tissue just keeps on coming back."
Just ask Wayne Garland, Don Gullett or Steve Stone how tough such a comeback is. "The prognosis is never good on those types of injuries," said Dave Labossiere, the Astros' trainer. "You're probably never going to pitch again."
Somehow, Roebuck, at age 30, did in 1962 what few pitchers--if any--in baseball have done: He came back successfully from a disabling shoulder injury.
"I owe all of the credit to Myers," Roebuck said. "Without him, I never would have done it."
Roebuck pitched in 64 games with a 3.09 earned-run average. "I've never seen a guy work so hard to come back," said Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, a former teammate of Roebuck's.
Roebuck was traded to the Washington Senators in 1963 and continued his pitching career with the Philadelphia Phillies though the 1966 season. He continued to be one of baseball's best relivers, specializing in the sinker. For Roebuck, a man who never called it quits, it was tough to finally face retirement.
"When I was sent down to the minors in '67 by the Phillies, I knew it was over," he said. "I tried to put it out of my mind, but I felt good because I'd worked so hard to come back."
Roebuck, who will be at the Dodger Old-Timers' game starting at 12:30 today, was in the limelight when he attended the Dodger-Astro game Friday night. He was interviewed on DodgerVision, the team's cable television outlet.
"This is great. I'm a VIP for a day," Roebuck said to his family. "This doesn't happen to me much."
Roebuck is here because he was a member of the Dodgers' 1955 world championship team, but he doesn't remember that glory season very well.
"I was too busy just trying to stay on the team that I didn't have time to smell the roses," he said. "I still can't believe that I was there. I honestly thought that all of the players were so much better than me."
Roebuck remembered that he was concerned about making the 1955 team but did well in his first appearance. He and Labine were warming up in the bullpen when Carl Erskine lost his control. The call came from manager Walter Alston, and surprisingly the rookie, Roebuck, was called upon in a tough jam. Roebuck threw a double-play ball and got a win in his first major league appearance.
"Being a scout is the best job in baseball if you can't play," he said.
WHAT BECAME OF THE PLAYERS OF . . . THE 1955 DODGERS
MEMBER POSITION Gil Hodges First Base Jim Gilliam Second Base Pee Wee Reese Shortstop Jackie Robinson Third Base Carl Furillo Right Field Duke Snider Center Field Sandy Amoros Left Field Roy Campanella Catcher Don Hoak Third Base Don Zimmer Second Base Don Newcombe Pitcher Rube Walker Catcher George Shuba Outfield Frank Kellert First Base Dixie Howell Catcher Walt Moryn Outfield Bob Borkowski Outfield Bert Hamric Pinch Hitter Clem Labine Pitcher Carl Erskine Pitcher Billy Loes Pitcher Johnny Podres Pitcher Don Bessent Pitcher Karl Spooner Pitcher Russ Meyer Pitcher Roger Craig Pitcher Ed Roebuck Pitcher Sandy Koufax Pitcher Joe Black Pitcher Chuck Templeton Pitcher Jim Hughes Pitcher Tom Lasorda Pitcher
MEMBER STATUS Gil Hodges Former manager of the New York Mets, deceased Jim Gilliam Former coach for the Dodgers, deceased Pee Wee Reese Public relations representative in Lori, Ky. Jackie Robinson Deceased Carl Furillo Security guard in Pennsylvania Duke Snider Radio and television commentator Sandy Amoros Retired in Florida Roy Campanella Retired Don Hoak Deceased Don Zimmer Coach for the Chicago Cubs Don Newcombe President of Don Newcombe Enterprises Rube Walker Information not available George Shuba U.S. Postal worker in Youngstown, Ohio Frank Kellert Information not available Dixie Howell Real estate salesman in Louisville, Ky. Walt Moryn Manager of liquor store in Illinois Bob Borkowski Clerk at a graphics company in Dayton, Ohio. Bert Hamric Information not available Clem Labine General manager of manufacturing company in Woonsocket,R.I. Carl Erskine President of a bank in Anderson, Ind. Billy Loes Information not available Johnny Podres Pitching coach for Minnesota Twins Don Bessent Information not available Karl Spooner Manager of citrus packing house in Vero Beach, Fla. Russ Meyer Owns a bowling alley in Ogelsby, Ill. Roger Craig Pitching consultant for Detroit Tigers Ed Roebuck Scout for the Cincinnati Reds Sandy Koufax Pitching instructor during spring training for Dodgers Joe Black Vice President of Special Marketing for Greyhound Corp. Chuck Templeton Marine supply salesman in Minnesota Jim Hughes Lieutenant in the Chicago Fire Department Tom Lasorda Manager of the Dodgers
THE 1959 DODGERS
MEMBER POSITION Don Demeter Center Field Wally Moon Left Field John Roseboro Catcher Ron Fairly Outfield Norm Larker First Base Maury Wills Shortstop Rip Repulski Outfield Joe Pignatano Catcher Don Drysdale Pitcher Bob Lillis Shortstop Chuck Essegian Outfield Dick Gray Infield Jim Baxes Infield Frank Howard Outfield Solly Drake Outfield Danny McDevitt Pitcher Larry Sherry Pitcher Stan Williams Pitcher Johnny Klippstein Pitcher Chuck Churn Pitcher Art Fowler Pitcher Gene Snyder Pitcher Fred Kipp Pitcher Bill Harris Pitcher
MEMBER STATUS Don Demeter Courier in Longview, Tex. Wally Moon President of pool company in Oklahoma City John Roseboro Owner of an advertising company in Los Angeles Ron Fairly Commentator for the Angels Norm Larker Works at a transportation company for military personnel in California Maury Wills Works in the Dodgers community relations department Rip Repulski Retired railroad employee in Minnesota Joe Pignatano Information not available Don Drysdale Announcer for Chicago White Sox and ABC Bob Lillis Manager of the Houston Astros Chuck Essegian Attorney in Woodland Hills Dick Gray An employee in the Buena Park School District Jim Baxes Heating and air conditioner engineer in California Frank Howard Coach for the Mets Solly Drake Pastor in a Los Angeles Baptist church Danny McDevitt Project office with the U.S. Government in Atlanta Larry Sherry Pitching coach in Mission Viejo Stan Williams Scout in the New York Yankee system Johnny Klippstein Vice President of Sales for corrugated box company in Illinois Chuck Churn Farmer in Virginia Art Fowler Retired in South Carolina Gene Snyder Department manager of a steel company in Pennsylvania Fred Kipp Owner of an energy management company in Kansas Bill Harris Information not available
NOTE: Gil Hodges, Jim Gilliam, Carl Furillo, Duke Snider, Sandy Amoros, Don Zimmer, Clem Labine, Carl Erskine, Johnny Podres, Sandy Koufax, Roger Craig were members of both the 1955 and 1959 Dodgers. SOURCES: Los Angeles Dodgers Public Relations Department and The Baseball Encyclopedia.