Elwin “Preacher” Roe was born in Arkansas in 1916. There are at least three stories I could find concerning the nickname. I have no idea which is true, but the best one indicates he was an obstreperous child and his grandmother called him “Preacher” hoping it would help reform him. It didn’t.
In 1937 and 1938 he attended Harding College in Arkansas, pitching for the college team. He was a strikeout machine, once fanning 26 in 11 innings. That got the attention of the Cardinals, who signed him in ’38. He got into one game in ’38 pitching 2.2 innings and giving up four runs. That got him a trip to the minors. He spent 1939-43 in the minors, going 44-39 with a 3.37 ERA, more strikeouts than walks, and a1.271 WHIP.
In late 1943 the Cards sent him to Pittsburgh. He stayed through 1947 going 34-47 with a 3.73 ERA (ERA+ of 105) with more hits than innings pitched, but with a lot more strikeouts than walks. He took the league strikeout title in 1945 with 148. During the offseason he taught high school math and coached basketball. In an altercation with a referee in 1946 he was injured (a head injury). It hurt his pitching and he never recovered his arm speed (not sure exactly how that works, but then I was never a pitcher).
After the season ended, he was traded to Brooklyn for Dixie Walker (there were others in the trade). Walker wanted out of Brooklyn because of the signing of Jackie Robinson. Although a Southerner himself, Roe seems to have had no problem playing with Robinson or the other black players brought to the Dodgers later. He was close to battery mate Roy Campanella.
Without a fastball after the head injury, Roe developed a series of off-speed pitches and a spit ball. He never admitted to the spitter until after his playing days when he explained the process in an early Sports Illustrated article. His career got back on track and with Brooklyn he had six good seasons. He led the National League in winning percentage in 1951. He played in the World Series in 1949, 1952, and 1953 going 2-1 with 14 strikeouts in 28 innings. His 1-0 victory in 1949 was Brooklyn’s only win.
By 1954 he was 38 and through. He went 3-4 in 15 games (10 starts) and was traded to Baltimore. He retired rather than report. For his career he was 127-84 with an ERA of 3.43 (ERA+ of 116) with 956 strikeouts, 504 walks, 17 shutouts, and 1907 hits over 1914 innings. His WAR is 35.1 (Baseball Reference.com version of WAR).
In retirement he ran a store in West Plains, Missouri (where one of the streets is “Preacher Roe Boulevard”. He died in 2008.
There are several great Roe quotes. The one I like best is, “Live every day like it’s your last, because one day you’ll be right.”