Pitcher Les Rohr of Billings had front-row seat on Miracle Mets’ march

2009-08-06T00:45:00Z Pitcher Les Rohr of Billings had front-row seat on Miracle Mets’ marchBILL BIGHAUS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 06, 2009 12:45 am  • 

Les Rohr is proud of his connection with the 1969 New York Mets, but these days the humble, 63-year-old Billings resident just doesn't believe he belongs on the same field with his former teammates.

Rohr, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound left-handed pitcher, spent parts of three seasons with the Mets in the late 1960s. He was with New York during a portion of its amazing run to a National League pennant and World Series championship 40 years ago.

"But I don't consider myself a Miracle Met, because I really did nothing," he said. "I was just lucky to be there."

That's why he said he won't be attending the team's '69 Anniversary Celebration, which is scheduled for Aug. 22 at New York's new Citi Field.

"They wanted me to come back," Rohr said. "I just told them there isn't any reason I should be back there with all those ballplayers that actually won the World Series. They're the ones that deserve it."

Rohr, a 1965 graduate of Billings West and a local American Legion star, was the Mets' top draft pick - and the No. 2 selection in the nation - during professional baseball's inaugural free agent draft of 1965.

He was called up by New York in September 1969 and pitched in relief in one regular-season game, but he wasn't included as a member of the team's postseason roster and never received a World Series ring.

However, while he wasn't in uniform, Rohr said he witnessed all of the memorable moments at Shea Stadium as the Mets beat the Baltimore Orioles in five games for their first World Series championship.

He remembers joining the celebration on the field and being in the clubhouse after the deciding game.

"I was just a ballplayer that was there at the right time," he said. "But there were a lot better ballplayers on that ballclub than I was. I was just happy to be on the Mets."

Rohr, then a hard-throwing 23-year-old, was promoted to the Mets late in 1969 after winning nine games and helping New York's Double-A team in Memphis, Tenn., capture the Texas League championship. He had pitched a no-hitter earlier in the year for Memphis.

He threw 1ª innings in relief for the Mets on Sept. 19, giving up three earned runs in an 8-2 loss to Pittsburgh at Shea Stadium.

Forty years later, when asked if he thought he might have made the postseason roster if that outing had been a little smoother, Rohr relied, "Yeah, I do, but you never know."

Up until 1969, the Mets were baseball's laughable losers. Their remarkable charge to the National League pennant and World Series title defied 100-to-1 odds.

"I was in awe of the boys I was with," Rohr said. "They were fantastic ballplayers."

And many of them will be on hand for the historic reunion, including Mets pitching legends Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, both Hall of Famers, and Jerry Koosman, a two-time All-Star.

"Nolan Ryan and I were fairly close," Rohr said. "Tug McGraw was even better, but he's not alive anymore. I liked Tug and I like his boy, too, Tim, a (country) singer. Now there's a boy with talent, and he looks just like Tug."

The afternoon ceremony, before a Mets-Philadelphia Phillies game, is also expected to reunite Cleon Jones, Bud Harrelson, Duffy Dyer, Jerry Grote, Ed Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, Gary Gentry and Yogi Berra, who was a coach with the '69 club.

"Sure, I'd love to see those guys again, but I don't know whether they want to see me," Rohr said with a laugh. "They probably would."

He said the Mets offered to "pay for everything" to get him to attend the reunion. And some would suggest that he is being unassuming and humble to a fault.

"Yeah, I know," Rohr said. "But this is just how I feel."

Rohr, who is retired and collecting disability Social Security, just isn't one for the spotlight anymore - or the big city.

He said he wasn't aware of the recent Sports Illustrated story on the Amazin' Mets, which featured Ryan and Seaver on the cover. And he said he hasn't had any personal contact with his former teammates or attended any Mets games over the past 40 years

"I did concrete work for 35 years after I got out of baseball. That was my life," Rohr said. "I got married, had a couple kids and had to raise them."

Ryan, who also signed with the Mets in 1965, did write Rohr a note several years ago, sending along some pictures of his Texas ranch and telling him, "I enjoyed playing with you."

Rohr has served as a pitching coach with Billings Scarlets and Royals American Legion teams over the years and still operates his Big Rohr Pitching School. He drove a battered 1972 GMC pickup around town for years sporting a personalized "69 Mets" license plate.

"I didn't do much, but it's still an honor to be associated with the '69 Mets," he said.

And, to this day, it seems a bit unusual that Rohr doesn't have a World Series ring. He just shrugs that off and says he has no hard feelings.

"It's only a material thing, just a hunk of metal," he said. "It doesn't bother me at all. If it does show up in my mailbox one day, I'll be surprised. Somebody's got it."

Rohr laughed when he said that, but later added: "I was measured for a ring. I'm sure there's a ring out there with my name on it. I don't know where it is."

Asked if he would appreciate having some championship jewelry, he replied, "Yes, I would."

Rohr, who was born in Lowestoft, England, was with New York as a starting pitcher for a stretch in 1967, coming away with two victories against Don Drysdale and the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1968, he was the losing pitcher in one of baseball's longest games - throwing three innings of relief in a 24-inning, 1-0 loss to Houston in the Astrodome.

Rohr compiled a 2-3 record while pitching in six games over three years with the Mets, who eventually sold him to the Milwaukee Brewers on October 1970. However, he had to undergo spinal fusion surgery and never pitched for the Brewers.

"I'm very proud of what I did, the talent I had," Rohr said. "I wish I hadn't got hurt."

He still gets asked by Mets fans, through the mail, to sign baseballs or his 1968 Topps baseball card.

"It's nice that they kind of remember me," he said.

Rohr also said he usually watches the Mets when they're on television and still roots for them. New York is struggling with injuries this year, but he hasn't given up hope for another late-season charge

"You just never know," Rohr said. "That's why they call them the Miracle Mets."

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