Roe was a left-handed pitcher who played in the Major Leagues in the 1940s and 50s, making five All-Star teams, leading the league in strikeouts once, and had a personal best record of 22-3 in 1951 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
For his career, Roe accumulated 127 wins against 84 losses, a good record that likely would have been more impressive had he not missed time for service in World War II.
But the reason I know about Preacher Roe and the reason I thought all of this would be interesting to the majority of my readership is that Preacher Roe is the only Harding student to play in the Major Leagues. When I was at Harding, his old Dodgers jersey was on display in the Ganus Athletic Center, and I bet it’s still there.
Roe seems to have been an interesting character.
Born Elwin Charles Roe, he got his lifelong nickname at the age of 3 when his uncle returned from the first World War and asked his little nephew what his name was. Roe responded that his name was “Preacher” (apparently because he liked the local preacher who would take him on horse and buggy rides), and the nickname stuck.
He suffered a major setback early in his career when he was still with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the 1945 off-season, while coaching a high school basketball game (baseball players didn’t make as much then as they do now), he suffered a skull fracture after getting into a fight with the referee. He struggled through the next few seasons.
He turned his career around in Brooklyn, however, where he began throwing the (illegal) spitball as his signature pitch, and played alongside Jackie Robinson.
In an interview later in life, Roe expressed his pride in getting to play with Robinson: “I just felt if Jackie hit a home run while I was pitching, it counted just as much for me as if Pee Wee Reese hit it or some of the other guys that were white…I’d say, ‘You never have seen a good ballplayer until you’ve seen him.’ He was that good.”
If you look closely at the picture below, the setting might be familiar to some of you…it was taken at Camp Tahkodah.