Injuries curtailed Rohr's big-league stint
Mets' first draft pick pitched in parts of just three seasons
NEW YORK -- Rohr is the answer.
That's essentially what well-regarded Mets scout John "Red" Murff told general manager George Weiss and manager Casey Stengel before the inaugural Major League Baseball draft held in 1965.
Murff, who signed some 200 players in 33 years for several teams in the MLB draft, had advised Weiss of a 6-foot-5, 205-pound left-handed pitcher named Leslie Norvin Rohr and Weiss jumped at this opportunity.
"He told me he thought I'd be the key to changing things around for them," Rohr said recently from his home in Billings, Mont.
Rohr was born in Lowestoft, England, on March 5, 1946, and moved to Montana six months later with his mom, Lilian, and his dad, Norvin, who had finished his tour of duty with the United States Air Force.
Les Rohr had garnered plenty of accolades throughout the upper Midwest after blazing through the high school competition his senior year with a 23-0 record and a 0.64 ERA while at West High in Billings. He used the four basic pitches of a fastball, slider, curveball and change, with his fastball reportedly topping out at 95 mph (considering there were no radar guns back then). According to several databases, Rohr was described as "being a big, strong lefty with a big throwing motion." His physical attributes, combined with his baseball statistics, were too much to pass up for Weiss and Stengel.
The Mets had the second overall pick and quickly snatched up Rohr. It was a draft that turned out to be rather weak in comparison to later drafts with only a few players turning into stars. Johnny Bench was drafted in the second round with the 36th pick by the Reds and Graig Nettles was taken in the fourth round with the 74th pick by the Twins.
But the draft gained legendary status in the future because of the Mets' 12th-round selection, which happened to be Nolan Ryan out of Alvin High near Houston, Texas."I couldn't believe they picked me over Nolan Ryan," said Rohr, who met Ryan shortly after signing a contract worth a combined $55,000, including salary and bonuses. "I didn't see [the quality of] ball like they did down in Texas. That's why my record was the way it was."
Ryan would go on to have a career worthy of the Hall of Fame while Rohr would suffer a career-ending injury after his third year in the big leagues.
Rohr spent the rest of 1965 and the entire season of 1966 in the Minors before being called up toward the end of the 1967 season.
Rohr started in his first Major League appearance against the Dodgers at Shea Stadium on Sept. 19, 1967, and pitched six innings, allowing three runs, two earned, and six hits while striking out six and walking four. Rohr, who was 21 at the time, earned the win in the Mets' 6-3 victory in front of 9,535, which included his parents and his younger brother of two years, Roger.
Rohr lost his next start against the Astros, but then beat the Dodgers again, this time in Los Angeles, in, what he describes as the best performance in his career. On Sept. 30, 1967, he faced Don Drysdale and pitched eight innings, allowing no runs and six hits with seven strikeouts and two walks in the Mets' 5-0 victory.
"That was something else, to pitch against someone like Drysdale and have a game like that," said Rohr, who helps coach the same American Legion team he played for in the 1960s. "I thought I was on my way after that."
Early in the following season, Rohr participated in one of the longest games in Major League history and, unfortunately, took the loss. On April 15, 1968, in the longest shutout in baseball history, the Astros beat the Mets in the 24th inning with a 1-0 victory. Unfortunately, though, after six hours and six minutes of tense action, the outcome was decided by an error.
Tom Seaver, who had won the previous year's Rookie of the Year honor, started the game for the Mets and Don Wilson started for the Astros in a game in which the two teams combined for 22 hits and 12 walks.
Rohr entered the game in the 22nd inning after Danny Frisella pitched five innings of four-hit, four-strikeout ball. Rohr was making an appearance as a reliever even though he had thrown batting practice that day, something starting pitchers did on their days off back then.
He kept the Astros off the board for two innings, without allowing a hit. But, in the 24th inning, Norm Miller collected his first hit in seven tries with a single. After Rohr balked Miller to second, Jimmy Wynn (1-for-8) was intentionally walked and Rusty Staub advanced the runners with a groundout to second. John Bateman was put on to load the bases.
Then, Bob Aspromonte, on a 2-1 count, sent a sharp grounder to Mets shortstop Al Weis, who uncharacteristically let it slip under his legs, allowing the winning run to score. Weis was reported to have said, "I just plain blew it."
For Rohr, it was the beginning of the end.
"My arm swelled up real bad," said Rohr, who has run his own pitching school in Billings for Little Leaguers and high school players for the past decade. "I would find out later on that I pulled my tendon. It made me sick."
Rohr tried to pitch in his start the following week against the Dodgers but couldn't make it out of the third inning, allowing three runs, two earned, on eight hits and three walks with three strikeouts.
He spent the rest of the season either on the disabled list or in the Minor Leagues trying to get his game back.
Rohr would make one more appearance with the 1969 team that would go on to win its first World Series, a team that included Ryan, Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry and Tug McGraw, among others. In his last game, against the Pirates on Sept. 19, Rohr pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing four runs, three earned, and five hits with one walk and no strikeouts.
"The whole experience was something else," said Rohr, who actually made the World Series roster but, for some reason that he can't figure out, never received a ring. "I've got no hard feelings. I loved baseball and still do. You go full circle in life sometimes. I've had a wonderful time. Not too many people get to [the Major Leagues] from Billings, Mont."
The Mets attempted to trade Rohr in the offseason to the Milwaukee Brewers but, during a physical, doctors discovered a ruptured disc in Rohr's lower back. The Brewers cancelled the trade and sent Rohr back to the Mets, who gave him his unconditional release. Rohr ended up having a spinal fusion surgery and never recovered to play again.
For his career, Rohr finished with a 2-3 record and 3.70 ERA in six games and four starts. He pitched 24 1/3 innings and allowed 15 runs, 10 earned, with 27 hits, 17 walks and 20 strikeouts.
After he left baseball, Rohr took several manual labor jobs to support himself and his family which included his wife, Jean, who he had married a year after signing his first contract, and his two children, Jason, now 32, and Angela, now 25.
"It was tough for me to break in with the Mets," said Rohr. "What a pitching staff they had and, for me, it probably would have been a different story if I had started somewhere else."
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.