Sunday, May 22, 2016

Meet the Brewers #25: Phil Roof

When the Brewers began the 1970 season, manager Dave Bristol seemingly had decided that veteran catcher Jerry McNertney would be his regular catcher. McNertney had been the starter in Seattle the year before, so perhaps there was a bit of incumbency bias going on there. As a result, it took Phil Roof until the sixth game of the season to get into a game -- and then only because the Brewers and White Sox played a doubleheader, with Roof starting game 2 of the doubleheader.

1970 McDonald's Milwaukee Brewers
By the end of the season, however, Roof had played parts of 107 games behind the plate and McNertney had played in 95 as the backstop. It wasn't a platoon -- both bat right-handed. The two men were the only players to appear at catcher that year for the Brewers, making catcher a strange island of stability (along with shortstop) when compared to rightfield (12 different players appeared), leftfield (11), and first base (10, including both catchers).

The back of Roof's 1971 O-Pee-Chee Card
Phillip Anthony Roof was born in Paducah, Kentucky in a baseball-playing family. His cousin Eddie Haas appeared in 55 total games in the big leagues in the late 1950s and in 1960, and his brother Gene Roof made 48 total appearances in the 1980s (mostly for the Cardinals but also 8 games with the Expos in 1983). Additionally, Roof brothers Adrian, Paul, and David all played minor league ball as did Gene's sons Shawn, Eric, and Jonathan.

By far the most prolific of the family, Phil played in 15 total major league seasons. Roof has a number of strange distinctions. He is one of just three players to appear for both the Milwaukee Braves and Milwaukee Brewers (2 games for the Braves, 1 in 1961 and one in 1964). The other two are Felipe Alou (who hit three times for the Brewers in 1974) and Hank Aaron. A fourth player, George Brunet, appeared for the Milwaukee Braves and the Seattle Pilots, but he never made it to Milwaukee.

1971 Topps (or 1971 O-Pee-Chee, your choice)
Roof also appeared for the first iteration of the California Angels in 1965 after their name change from being the LA Angels. He was a member of the first Oakland A's team after their move from Kansas City. He stayed two seasons in Oakland before he was traded. Phil joined the Brewers organization while it was nominally still the Pilots, coming to the Brewers with Mike Hershberger, Lew Krausse, and Ken Sanders from Oakland in exchange for Ron Clark and Jaybarkerfan idol Don Mincher in a January 1970 trade.

Finally, he also made 5 plate appearances in his final season as a member of the inaugural Toronto Blue Jays. Amidst all those interesting places, he spent the most time with the Minnesota Twins -- parts of 6 seasons, starting in 1971 and ending 1976. Through it all, however, Roof was definitely more of a member of the backup catchers' and defensive specialists' union than any kind of star.

1970 Flavor-Est Milk (Reprint)

After his retirement as an active player, he spent eight seasons as a major league coach with the San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago Cubs. Then, the Twins came calling and asked him to serve as a minor-league manager. He did that for 16 years before retiring in 2005. Finally, he pinch-hit as the bullpen coach for the Twins in 2011 while regular bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek recovered from eye surgery.

1994 Miller Brewing Set
As recently as 2013 (that's as recent as I can find), the then-72-year-old Roof still was coming to Twins spring training and throwing batting practice. In various interviews with Roof -- whether in 2000 when he managed the Triple-A Salt Lake Buzz, in 2011 when talking about his pal Bert Blyleven's induction into the Hall of Fame, or later that same year when Roof himself was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame -- he comes across as someone who understands how lucky he has been to be able to spend his entire life in and around a game he's loved since he was a kid.

Counting the "milk" set, Roof appears on a total of 9 cards as a Milwaukee Brewer (10 if you count the original Milk set and the reprint separately). Of those, I have the five I've shown here. I'm missing the 1970 Mike Andersen Postcard, the 1970 and 1971 Brewers Picture Packs, the original Milk set card, and the 1971 Dell Today's Team Stamp.

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