Take Him Out to the Ball Game

The thrill of being at the ballpark never wanes for Kentucky Athletic Hall of Famer, Phil Roof

Take him out to the ballgame Paducah native Phil Roof is a member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, Class of 2011. What preceded that honor? A more than fifty-year career in major and minor league baseball as a player, coach, and manager.

Born in 1941, in Paducah, Kentucky, Roof grew up with a family of baseball fans. He and his father and brothers listened to all of the St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio. That is, of course, except for the once or twice a year that they made the 175-mile trip to Busch Stadium to watch one live. On those occasions, Roof got to see some of his idols in person, like Stan “The Man” Musial and Red Schoendienst. Outside of that, though, he idolized his older brothers. As a matter of fact, four of his brothers played professional baseball. Gene and Phil both played in the majors.

As for Phil, his baseball career began in the 7th grade. That year, he made the team at St. John’s, a small Catholic school just outside of Paducah. The next year he made the varsity team, and started every game as catcher until he graduated from high school on May 24,1959. Two days later he signed a $35,000 contract with the Milwaukee Braves.

“With my exposure to baseball, playing with my brothers, the skills I had, and the way the scouts looked at me, it just seemed like second nature that I would be playing pro baseball,” says Roof.

Roof knew it was a great opportunity and turned down a number of college scholarship offers to play. The decision paid off. A year later, the Braves called Phil up to the majors. And in the spring of 1961, he made his major league debut, tagging out Jim Davenport in the 9th inning. He continued to play for minor league teams for a few more seasons, but he would get his major-league chance again. This time, it was for the Kansas City A’s. In May 1966, Roof hit a home run in the 12th inning, leading the A’s to a 5-3 victory over the Washington Senators. It was his first, and one of the most thrilling moments of his life. He started every game that season.

“The biggest thrill was being able to walk into the clubhouse and not having to look at the bulletin board to see if I was playing or not,” says Roof.

In his 15-year major league career, Roof played in 857 games. He played his last game for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, at the age of 36. He then moved into coaching, working for eight years in the majors. And then he became a minor league manager for the Minnesota Twins organization. A baseball player all his life, Roof knew he wanted to continue working in the game. But as a coach and manager, he found a new thrill.

“The most rewarding thing is getting that phone call from your general manager to ‘send ’em up.’ I can’t get the smile on their faces out of my mind,” says Roof.

Roof says throughout his years coaching and managing, he’s had 40 or 50 players under him move up to the majors. That includes some current MLB stars like Joe Mauer, Justin Monreau, Tori Hunter, and David Ortiz.

Although he officially retired in 2005, Roof ’s passion for the sport continues. Every year since ’05, the Twins have called him back to help out. In 2011, he coached for the major league team. Considering that’s the same year he became a member of the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, Roof seems to be enjoying baseball as much as ever.

“It was like being a rookie again at the major leagues. I didn’t think I’d done enough to be given that honor. I was in tall cotton, believe me,” says Roof.

Now as spring sweeps across the empty baseball diamonds emerging from their winter’s rest, 71-year-old Phil Roof is back in the swing of spring himself. He’s headed for training with the Twins, and yet another season opening his beloved sport of baseball.

“Phil Roof is one of the real great guys of the game. He was the type of teammate, and I think person, that you looked forward to going to the ballpark to see every day. He was just such a terrific guy. I think every time Phil played, it was a joy to be out there with him. —Ken Sanders, former Minnesota Twins pitcher