Tony Roig’s life in professional baseball led him all around the world, from Louisiana to Tennessee to San Diego to Japan. But he has always ended up back in Spokane.
When he joined the Spokane Indians in 1958, then a Triple-A team for the Los Angeles Dodgers, he fell in love with the city.
“I think a big break in my life was coming to Spokane. I met my wife there, I raised my family there. I love it out there,” Roig said when reached on vacation in Texas. He lives in Liberty Lake with his wife, Jackie and a son, Rick, lives in Cheney. Another son, Mike, and daughter, Lisa Nunn, both live in the Dallas area.
But his three years playing baseball in Spokane is just a short chapter of the 79-year-old’s career, just a stepping stone in a life of baseball he said he would have lived even if he didn’t get paid.
A native of New Orleans, Roig broke into pro ball in 1948, when he was signed out of high school as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He saw minimal playing time in the development leagues until 1950, when the 20-year-old batted .327 in the Georgia-Alabama League and attracted the attention of the Washington Senators.
Come 1953, he was making a name for himself as an infielder for Chattanooga, Washington’s Double-A farm club. He spent much of 1955 and all of ‘56 with the Senators. He batted .210 in 119 major-league at-bats in ‘56 but was sent back to Chattanooga as an outfielder in ‘57.
Then, on Dec. 17, 1957, while the Dodgers were in the midst of moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, they signed Roig and assigned him to their new Triple-A club – the Spokane Indians – and Roig found his new home.
“In my years I spent playing for them, I was treated royally,” Roig said of the Indians. “The fans were great – hey, they always pulled for the Indians real well, just like they do now. We drew outstanding crowds for that time in Triple-A.”
He was a member of the Indians club that initiated, in 1958, what is now Avista Stadium. Roig was teammates with Indians legend – and, later, Dodgers shortstop – Maury Wills. Able to play all nine positions, Roig was the team’s most valuable player in 1960 when the Indians won their first Pacific Coast League championship.
That season, Roig said, is still one of his favorites in baseball.
“The 1960 club, I guess we must have had about seven, eight guys who went to the big leagues off this club,” he said. “I even had a chance myself. I got drafted by the Chicago White Sox, had the ballclub made and came up with pneumonia in Florida.”
He ended up playing minor-league ball for the Sox that year and played against the Indians when he was on San Diego’s roster. In 1963, he went to Japan as one of the first American regulars, where he was a home-run hitter.
After six seasons overseas, Roig returned to Spokane and owned a lumberyard on Trent Avenue, he said. But his calling was still baseball.
He sold the business and, in 1973, started scouting for the big leagues – first the Milwaukee Brewers, and later for the California Angels and the Phillies. One of the most impressive players he ever scouted, he said, was Barry Bonds.
Roig said it’s a shame baseball has been given a “black mark” thanks to recent steroids scandals.
“I don’t remember seeing any of that when I was playing,” he said. “A guy gets an unfair advantage over the other people that are playing under normal situations, under their own abilities without any booster shot.”
Of course, there are also things about pro baseball today that impress him.
“The players now are doing things we didn’t do in them days,” Roig said. “I watch ballgames and I see guys making diving plays and stuff like that. I don’t know, I didn’t see those plays being made when I was playing. I think they’ve improved the fielding part of the game by leaps and bounds.”
Naturally, he still follows the Spokane Indians. And Philadelphia, the last team for which he scouted.
“The Phillies are paying my pension, so I’m all for the Phillies,” he joked.
He’s one of thousands of fans who are frustrated with this year’s Seattle Mariners. He feels especially bad because M’s manager John McLaren is a good friend of his.
“Just like anything, you can’t win the race if you don’t have a good horse,” Roig said of the Mariners. “They haven’t played well for him.”
However, he doesn’t often go to baseball games anymore. He’s gone to an Indians game here and there, but after all the years of scouting, he’s a little worn out from all the big crowds, he said.
Nevertheless, the Indians have asked him to be at Avista Stadium on Saturday, when they celebrate 50 years at the ballpark. Roig will throw the first pitch.
“Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it,” Roig said. “Because Spokane’s been great to me.”