Jim Rooker was a 6’ left-handed throwing and right-hitting pitcher from Lakeview, OR. Born September 23rd, 1942, he signed his first professional contract with the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1960. He first appeared with the Jamestown Tigers (“D” level, New York Penn League) in 1962, pitching 10 innings over three games – he walked eight and allowed 11 hits while striking out three. He wouldn’t resurface again until 1964, when he pitched 63 innings for the Duluth-Superior Dukes in the “A” level Northern League. He went 3-4 with a 5.29 ERA.
In 1965, Rooker managed a 2-11 combined record between the “A” level Carolina League Rocky Mount Leafs (1-7, 4.10) and the “AA” level Montgomery Rebels in the Southern League (1-4, 4.21). He spent most of 1966 back in Rocky Mount, posting a much improved 12-5 record and a sparkling 2.05 ERA. He split 1967 between the Rebels (5-2, 2.89) and the “AAA” level Toledo Mud Hens in the International League (5-5, 3.78).
1968 would see Rooker start the season in Toledo, with whom he collected a 14-8 record that season with a 2.61 ERA. He also made his first major league appearance, pitching twice in relief in June and July. He allowed four hits, a walk, and two earned runs while striking out four in 4.2 innings. After the season, his contract was purchased by the New York Yankees. He never donned pinstripes, as just 15 days later he was selected as the sixth pick in the 1968 expansion draft by the Kansas City Royals.
Rooker spent four seasons in Kansas City, racking up a 21-44 record (including seven shutouts) with a 3.93 ERA. The Royals sent him off to the Pirates for relief pitcher Gene Garber after the 1972 season.
In 1973, Rooker pitched 41 games for the Bucs, starting 18, pitching six complete, and logging five saves. He allowed an NL ninth best 7.6 hits per nine innings. In game two of a doubleheader on July 20th, he pitched a complete game six hitter, striking out eight in a 7-0 win over the San Diego Padres. On August 19th, he struck out five and pitched a five hitter in a 5-0 win over the San Francisco Giants. Just two weeks later on August 31st, he pitched his third shutout in just over a month, allowing the Chicago Cubs seven hits while striking out five. His best performance may actually have been in relief. On May 7th, he entered a game versus the Dodgers with a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the seventh. He struck out two and allowed only a walk as he allowed the Bums zero hits over the last three innings. He finished the season with a 10-6 record, giving him an NL seventh best .625 win percentage. He also ranked fifth in the senior circuit with a 1.145 WHIP and 10th in the league by striking out 6.4 batters per nine innings. Pittsburgh finished third in the NL East at 80-82.
1974 would see Rooker go 15-11 with an NL eighth best 2.78 ERA. He ranked fourth in the league with 15 complete games. In game one of a twin bill on August 25th, he pitched 11 innings and struck out nine while allowing six hits and only one run in a 4-1 12-inning win over the Padres. He also showed some chops at the plate, hitting .305 with five doubles, two triples, and eight RBI in 95 at bats. The Pirates won the NL East with a 88-74 record. In game two of the NLCS, he allowed six hits and walked five over seven innings, taking a no decision in a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates were eliminated three games to one.
Rooker went 13-11 with an NL eighth best 2.97 ERA in 1975. He completed seven of his 28 starts and allowed only 8.1 hits per nine innings. On August 25th, he earned his only shutout of the season, allowing three hits and striking out four in a 4-0 win over the Atlanta Braves. His best start of the season, however came in the second game of a doubleheader on September 15th. He allowed two hits and struck out nine, allowing only an unearned run in a 9-1 victory over the Cubs. Pittsburgh won the NL East with a 92-69 record, 6.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Pirates were swept by the Cincinnati Reds in three games in the NLCS. Rooker started game two, taking the 6-1 loss by allowing seven hits and four earned runs in four innings.
1976 would see Rooker go a career best seven games above .500, at 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA. His .652 winning percentage was good for seventh in the NL. His only shutout of the season came on the last day, in game one of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals on October 3rd. He allowed seven hits in the 1-0 squeaker. The Pirates, at 92-70, finished nine games behind the Phillies for the NL East title.
In 1977, Rooker continued his winning ways, posting a 14-9 record with an NL ninth ranking 3.08 ERA. He completed seven of 30 starts, along with two shutouts. On April 15th he tossed a three hitter and struck out five in a 7-0 win over the Cardinals, then on June 3rd struck out four and allowed five hits in a 5-0 win over the Cubs. The Pirates were consistently good, at 96-66, but still five games behind the Phillies for a shot at the pennant.
In 1978, Rooker managed to complete only one of his 28 rotation starts, posting his first losing record in Pittsburgh, at 9-11 with a 4.24 ERA. His best game of the season was on July 1st in a 1-0 win over the New York Mets, when he allowed three hits and struck out five over eight innings. Pittsburgh showed consistency by finishing in second again, 1.5 games back of the Phillies with an 88-73 record.
Rooker posted a 4-7 record in 1979, with a 4.60 ERA. He appeared in 19 games, starting 17 with one complete. On May 19th, he started his season with an 8.1 inning, three hit performance against the Cubs in a 3-0 win. His second start would be his only complete game of the campaign, as he allowed two hits and struck out five in a 9-2 win, also over the Cubs on May 30th. The Pirates finally cracked the postseason, winning the division title by two games over the Expos with a 98-64 record. Rooker did not appear as Pittsburgh swept the Reds in three games in the NLCS. In Pittsburgh’s seven game series win over the Baltimore Orioles, Rooker made two appearances with one start. He allowed five hits in 8.1 innings.
1980 would be Rooker’s last major league season. He went 2-2, 3.50 in four starts, totaling 18 innings. In his first start of the season on April 13th, he allowed five hits and struck out six in 6.1 innings, earning the victory over the Cardinals, 3-1. Rooker went into politics after his baseball career, but lost both races that he entered. He would join the Pirates broadcast team for 13 years before getting picked up by ESPN. According to Wikipedia.org:
Rooker's most famous moment as a broadcaster came on June 8, 1989, during a Pirates’ road game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Veterans Stadium. The Pirates scored 10 runs in the top of the first inning, including three on a Barry Bonds home run. As the Pirates' cross-state rivals came to bat in the bottom of the first, Rooker said on the air, "If we lose this game, I’ll walk home." Both Von Hayes and Steve Jeltz hit two home runs (the latter would hit only five during his Major League career) to trigger a Phillies comeback. The Phillies, trailing now only 11-10 in the eighth inning, scored the tying run on a wild pitch, then took the lead on Darren Daulton's two-run single and went on to win 15-11. Rooker had to wait until after the season to make good on his "walk home" promise, conducting a 300-plus-mile charity walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Rooker currently is a writer of children’s literature.
All-Time Statline: Eight seasons, 82-65, 3.29 ERA, 218 games, 187 starts, 47 CG, eight shutouts, six saves, 1317.2 innings pitched, 1227 hits allowed, walked 479, struck out 672, 1.295 WHIP, 16.1 wins above replacement.