BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
Carver Memories -- May 1959
Western baseball standout Roger Repoz named NAIA MVP, played for New York Yankees alongside Mantle and Maris
By Thomas Van Hyning, Aug. 15, 2013
The most productive professional baseball seasons for Roger Repoz came in Japan, but his fondest pro memories were "putting on the pinstripes and playing with all those great Yankee stars" at New York. He hit 313 home runs with 1,002 runs batted in over 18 years in the major leagues, the minors, Japan, and Puerto Rico from 1960 through 1977.
As a pitcher and first baseman for Western Washington State College (now Western Washington University), Repoz was the Most Valuable Player at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Tournament in 1959. From 1967 to 1970, while with the Kansas City Athletics and the California Angels, he set a major-league record for non-pitchers of 347 games and 894 at-bats without hitting into a double play. The 6-foot-3 Repoz played at 195 pounds.
Roger Allen Repoz was born in Bellingham, Washington, a city 17 miles south of the U.S.-Canadian border and 50 miles southeast of Vancouver, British Columbia, on Aug. 3, 1940. He was one of two children born to John and Joyce Repoz. John, of Yugoslavian descent, was a mill worker. Repoz's only sibling was a sister, Linda. Roger enjoyed fishing, hunting, and playing Little League baseball during his childhood. His favorite players growing up were Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson.
Following graduation from Bellingham High School in 1958, he enrolled at Western Washington University, located in Bellingham. Playing first base and pitching for the Vikings, who competed in the regional Evergreen Conference, he had an 11-2 won-lost record with a 0.90 earned-run average in 1959. In the NAIA Championship Tournament at Alpine, Texas, the Vikings went 2-2 and placed third, with Repoz winning both games and capturing the tourney's MVP award.
Former major-league catcher Mickey Owen, scouting for the Chicago Cubs, was impressed by two players he saw in the tournament, Repoz and Lou Brock. "I wanted to sign both of them but (the Cubs) told me to recommend and sign one," he told the author in an interview. "So we went with Brock, whose team (Southern University) won the championship." Brock went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, stealing a then major league record 938 bases.
Repoz hit .348 for Western as a sophomore in 1960 and again drew attention from scouts. He was signed by Yankees' scout Eddie Taylor after New York's 1960 season ended.
The 19-year-old Repoz joined the Modesto Reds of the Class C California League in midseason. After batting .240 in 14 games, he was assigned to the St. Petersburg Saints of the Class D Florida State League, where he batted .230 in 41 games. Back at Modesto in 1961, Repoz hit .287 with 5 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 16 steals. That earned him a promotion in 1962 to the Augusta (Georgia) Yankees of the Class A South Atlantic League. His batting average fell to .225. Back at Augusta in 1963, he batted only .221, but hit 20 home runs and had 72 RBIs.
At Columbus of the Southern League in 1964, Repoz hit a team-best 23 home runs. He earned a September call-up to the Yankees. Repoz told the author his first impression of Yankee Stadium was "like being in a canyon - the façade hung out over the field." He made his major-league debut on Sept. 11, as a pinch-hitter; Minnesota's Jim Perry struck him out.
The next season Repoz played in 75 games for the Toledo Mud Hens and hit a team-leading 14 homers. He was hitting .287 with 38 RBIs and a .522 slugging percentage when the Yankees called him up at the end of June to replace an injured Roger Maris, and pick up the slack while Mickey Mantle, also injured, was limited to pinch-hitting duty. In his second game, on July 1, Repoz got his first major-league hit, a home run off Orioles' pitcher Steve Barber at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. He homered again the next day, off the Red Sox' Dave Morehead in Boston. A third homer came off Joe Sparma in Detroit on July 5, then a fourth blast off Dave Boswell at Minnesota on July 9. On the 10th, he was 4-for-5 against the Twins' Mudcat Grant. Repoz ended 1965 with a .220 batting average and 12 homers.
The Yankees sent Repoz to Puerto Rico to play for the 1965-66 Ponce Lions, managed by former Yankee hurler Luis Arroyo. "It was a vacation - no pressure," he said, and the quality of play "was much better" than Triple-A Toledo, with a lot of major leaguers and top prospects. In the playoffs, second-place Ponce toppled third-place Caguas in the semifinals before losing in the finals to the Mayagûez Indians, featuring Detroit prospects.
In 1966, with Mantle and Maris both back in action, Repoz got limited playing time (37 games) with the Yankees but was hitting .349 when on June 10 he was traded along with pitchers Bill Stafford and Gil Blanco to the Kansas City Athletics for pitcher Fred Talbot and catcher Billy Bryan.
"(Manager) Ralph Houk said they needed Fred. I wished it had never happened," Repoz told the author. "I loved New York."
Repoz hit .216 for the A's but led the club in homers with 11. Manager Alvin Dark played Repoz regularly against both lefties and righties.
Repoz returned to Ponce for winter ball and played in all 72 Ponce regular-season games, including a tie-breaker win over Santurce for the pennant. He played in the league all-star game, and was voted by the media to the final League All-Star Team.
The 1967 season started splendidly for Repoz when he scored the winning run in the A's 4-3 Opening Day win over Cleveland on Apr. 11. He homered off Baltimore's John Miller four days later and then slammed his second homer off Detroit's Denny McLain on Apr. 16. Dark platooned Repoz more often; used him as a pinch-hitter; gave more playing time to Rick Monday and Jim Gosger; and kept Mike Hershberger in right field. Repoz told the author: "Dark was a good manager (but) a strange man." Dark employed Allen Lewis, a designated pinch-runner, and would not hesitate to pinch-hit for a starting pitcher early in the game.
Repoz was traded to California on June 15 for pitcher Jack Sanford and outfielder Jackie Warner. The Athletics had promoted Reggie Jackson, who was inserted into the lineup on June 9. Repoz opined to the author that his days in Kansas City were numbered after Jackson's promotion, since the A's would not carry that many left-handed-hitting outfielders - Rick Monday, Jim Gosger, Jackson, and himself. Repoz grounded into a double play in his final A's at-bat, on June 6.
The Angels were a contender in July and August with good pitching, the slugging of Don Mincher, and the all-around play of team captain Jim Fregosi, who said to the author of Repoz, "What a great guy and a very talented hitter and player. (He) had great tools." In his first game, on June 27, Repoz hit a fly ball to center off Washington's Joe Coleman that began a major-league record streak of 347 games, 1,018 plate appearances, and 894 at-bats without grounding into a double play. He would not do so until May 24, 1970, a span of almost three seasons.
Repoz's first hit as an Angel was a homer off Boston's Jim Lonborg on July 5. The Angels were in the fight for the pennant (won by the Red Sox), and Repoz wound up hitting .250 with 5 home runs and 20 RBIs for the Angels. After the season he put in his final campaign in Puerto Rico with Ponce.
Repoz had his worst season in 1969: .164, 8 homers, 19 RBIs. He lost playing time to Jay Johnstone. California's 1970 edition was the best major-league team Repoz played for with the exception of the 1964 Yankees. On May 19 he homered and doubled off Chicago's Joel Horlen, and later doubled off Wilbur Wood, in a 3-0 road win. On the 24th at Minnesota he hit a two-run homer off Dave Boswell in the first inning. Then his remarkable streak ended in the seventh inning when his grounder to second baseman Rod Carew with a runner on first was turned into a 4-6-3 double play.
Repoz turned 30 on Aug. 3, 1970, and played a final full major-league season with the 1971 Angels. The team finished in fourth place in the AL West. Repoz slumped to .199, with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs in 113 games. In 1972, he spent most of the early season with Salt Lake City and had only three at-bats with the Angels when he was traded in June to Baltimore for infielder Jerry DaVanon. The Orioles sent Repoz to Rochester; he hit .251 in 74 games while leading the team with 13 home runs.
Baltimore "had no plans for Roger" and asked him if "he was interested in going to Japan" in 1973. Repoz and Don Buford of the Orioles went to play for Taiheyo Club Lions of the Nippon Professional Baseball Pacific League. "It wasn't easy," Repoz told the author. "The deck is stacked and most (American) guys couldn't take it. It's their way or the highway."
Repoz's first season in Japan was similar to his 1965 rookie season with the Yankees: 12 homers, .220 batting average, .312 on-base percentage, and .430 slugging average. Taiheyo finished fourth in the six-team league. Repoz made a lot more money (roughly $36,000 per season) playing in Japan from 1973 to 1977 than he did in the majors. He "was in the best shape ever" after preseason training, with a coach for running, fielding, hitting, and exercise. Repoz complimented his hosts: "They paid for everything; I had an apartment year-round; the lifestyle was good; they treated you like a star."
After his first season with Taiheyo, Repoz's contract was picked up by the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League, and he played for the Swallows until 1977. Playing in Jingu Stadium, the Swallows' home field, was "like playing sandlot ball in an all-sand infield," he said. Repoz said he never drove a car in Japan, taking taxis exclusively.
During his career in Japan, Repoz hit the 15,000th home run in Japanese baseball history.
The 1975 season was special for Repoz; he was the only Gaijin (foreigner) named to the Central League's Best Nine team. That season Repoz hit .292 with 27 home runs and 70 RBIs. He followed this with another impressive one in 1976:.274, 36 homers, 81 RBIs. That year Repoz, teammate Charlie Manuel, and Clyde Wright of the Yomiuri Giants were involved in an altercation with members of the East German men's Olympic hockey team at a Tokyo disco. Repoz said it was strictly verbal, denying reports that a fight took place.
In 1977 Repoz hit .263 with 22 home runs. He was released by the Swallows after the season and moved to Fullerton, Calif., where he embarked on a 26-year career in carpet mill manufacturing. Repoz was inducted into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1978, and considered it a "great honor to share with (my) dad." His sons, Craig and Jeff, played in the minors. Craig played in the Mets' and Padres' farm systems from 1985 to 1990, and Jeff played in the Phillies' system in 1989-90.
Repoz and his wife, Roberta, still lived in Fullerton as of 2013. Repoz attended a reunion of Yankees minor leaguers in 2010. He also played in three Angels Old-Timer games. Repoz maintains that his highlight in pro baseball was "putting on the pinstripes and playing with all those great [Yankee] stars."
Former major leaguer returns to Bellingham
Former WWU baseball player Roger Repoz was MVP of 1959 NAIA National Tournament
Aug. 2, 2008
Craig Parrish, The Bellingham Herald
BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- Roger Repoz looks like he could still hit a baseball into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.
Repoz, who grew up in Bellingham and who has lived in Fullerton, Calif., for nearly 30 years, prowled the outfield for the New York Yankees for a season in the mid-1960s.
Among his teammates were several players often mentioned as part of a long list of Yankee legends: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Joe Pepitone, Whitey Ford, Clete Boyer and Tony Kubek.
Repoz is in town visiting family for several days this week, and fans and friends are invited to an open house from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3. The event will be held at the home of his sister, Linda Doering, at 1408 Toledo St.; Repoz will on hand (Sunday is his birthday, as it turns out) to sign memorabilia, share stories of his career in baseball and reminisce with old acquaintances.
On Friday, Aug. 1, Repoz relaxed on his sister's back porch with several family members and local radio broadcaster Dick Stark, with whom Repoz has been friends since they were teenagers.
"It's been two years, three years since I was here last," Repoz said. "We enjoy coming up here, enjoy the weather, the rain - it's 85 in California.
Regarding the 67-degree temperatures and partly cloudy skies, Repoz said "it's a change for me, but I like it. I hope it rains some more."
Repoz's journey to the top of the professional baseball world began when he played prep ball for Bellingham High School and collegiately at Western Washington University. For the Vikings, he was the Most Valuable Player at the 1959 NAIA national tournament as Western advanced to the national quarterfinals. He was primarily a pitcher in his college days, but was an outfielder during his pro career.
The left-hander was twice named to the all-Evergreen Conference team, and in 1960 he was drafted by the Yankees. He reached the big club for a week in 1964, then began a seven-year stretch in the majors in 1965.
And who did he see at 'work' each day? From his spot in center field, Mantle was to his right in left field, and Maris, who broke the single-season home run record just four years earlier, was in right field.
"Mantle, Maris, all the big boys," said Repoz, who added that those superstars were simply regular guys who enjoyed working and playing with friends. Repoz did say that being among the best to ever play had some perks.
"(I was) kind of low-key, because in that era, being a rookie, you didn't mess with the big boys anyway," Repoz said. "You carried their bags, and if they asked you to do something, you'd do it. If you were in the training room and they wanted to get in the training room and said 'get out, I'm coming in' - yeah. It was a camaraderie, where you really respected those guys - doesn't happen today."
Repoz got a big taste of big-city celebrity during a particularly heady stretch of June 1965, when he hit five home runs in 11 games. Upon returning to New York, a reporter asked him "How does it feel to be the next Mickey Mantle?"
Repoz couldn't help but laugh when sharing that story, and he admits he didn't have much of an answer other than the obvious - that there would most certainly never be a 'next' Mickey Mantle.
The Yankees traded Repoz to the Kansas City Athletics in 1966 (he was hitting .349 at the time) when New York needed to find a left-handed starting pitcher to step in for the ailing Ford. One year later, Repoz was traded to the California Angels, where he played for five years. He followed that with a five-year stint in Japan, where he hit 120 home runs, including 36 in 1977, and earned a "Best Nine" award as being one of the top players in the 12-team league.
Repoz, who turns 68 on Sunday, Aug. 3 (2008), has worked for 26 years for Fabrica Fine Carpet & Rugs ("We make the best carpet in the world," he said). He said he wasn't interested in continuing in baseball after his playing days were over, and when the Fabrica president approached him about working for the company, he thought it'd be a good fit.
As for his time working the turf at one of sports' most hallowed venues, Repoz said he tried to appreciate his good fortune.
"It was a little intimidating," Repoz admits. "I couldn't believe I was there; I was just happy to be wearing the pinstripes."
Meeting the Star of my First Major League Baseball Game
Roger Repoz played for Yankees alongside Mantle and Maris
By David Jerome, Apr. 3, 2015
Friday night, August 6, 1971, my parents took me to see my first major league baseball game at Anaheim Stadium. I was 5-1/2 years old, and a month away from starting kindergarten, and I have no memory of the game at all.
With baseball season approaching, I decided that I'd do a story about the first major league baseball game that I ever attended. Thankfully, my Dad saved the ticket stub, so I searched for that one particular game and quickly found the box score and game summary.
It seemed like a nondescript Friday night game in the dog days of summer. The Angels beat the Twins 2-0. Local boy, Andy Messersmith, of Western High School in Anaheim pitched a complete game, a 3-hit shutout on the night of his 26th birthday.
All of the runs scored that night were due to the Angels right fielder Roger Repoz. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Repoz hit a 2 run home run off of Twins pitcher Jim Perry.
My detective work continued as I looked up Roger Repoz's baseball biography. He started his career in the mid-1960's wearing Yankee pinstripes alongside legends of the game including: Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford.
"I've got to contact this guy!" I thought to myself, not having any idea in the world where he might be. I did a little more research and found that he has lived in Fullerton for twenty years, just two miles from my own house!
I found his mailing address and wrote him a quick note explaining all of my recent discoveries, and I requested to speak with him. Two days later, I got a voicemail from Roger Repoz, and a few days after that, I was sitting in a folding chair on the driveway of his West Fullerton townhouse talkin' baseball.
Repoz was an easy-going 74-year-old man with a vice-like grip from all those years squeezing hand grips. "Hitting is all right here," he said pointing to his hands and forearms, wasting no time in getting down to the business of talking baseball. Despite the passage of forty to fifty years, Repoz' recollections from his 17-year professional career were as clear as though they'd happened last season.
Unfortunately, like me, he had no memory of the August 6, 1971 game, but when you've played in 831 major league games some are bound to run together. I filled him in on what I had learned by reading the box score.
"You hit a two run home run off of Jim Perry, which is interesting because he's the first pitcher that you ever faced in the big leagues on September 11, 1964," I told him.
That year, Repoz was a September call-up to the Yankees. He probably would have been selected to their World Series roster if he hadn't injured himself at the end of the season sliding head first into third base against the Senators.
Roger was called up a second time to the Yankees in June 1965, and immediately went on a tear. On July 1st he notched his first major league hit, a home run off of the Orioles' tough left-hander Steve Barber. Just ten days later, Repoz had already hit 4 home runs to go along with a 4-for-5 day off of the Twins' Mudcat Grant.
This early success started the unfair pressure brewing that this might be "the next Mickey Mantle."
Back then, Repoz was a blond haired, blue-eyed, big man standing 6'3" and weighing 195, and could have passed as either Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris' kid brother. For a big man, he was also a very fast runner. Mickey Mantle, before his many leg injuries, was a speedster himself when he first came up to the Yankees, once told Roger, "I'd give a million dollars if I could have legs like yours."
Roger was so fast that he proudly told me about the Spring Training game when he ran down Willie Mays. "I was playing first and following the runner to second. Willie took a big turn at second and they threw the ball to me, and I ran him down and caught him on his way to third."
On the road with the Yankees, Repoz roomed with pitcher, Jim Bouton. Bouton went on to write the iconic tell-all baseball book "Ball Four." Roger was mentioned a couple of times in the book, but kind of sluffed it off saying, "He didn't say anything bad about me, but back then, whatever happened in the clubhouse was supposed to stay in the clubhouse."
Repoz was having a great start to the 1966 season, hitting nearly .350 in 37 games when he was called into manager Ralph Houk's office and told that he was traded to the Kansas City A's.
Repoz says that being traded by the Yankees was the biggest disappointment in his baseball career. "Yankee Stadium was custom made for my style of hitting with it's short porch in right," Repoz said with a what-might-have-been sadness in his voice.
He played the second-half of the '66 season and the first half of the '67 season in Kansas City. He soon became expendable when the A's signed the up-and-coming, power-hitting, left-handed outfielder out of Arizona State, Reggie Jackson. Reggie took over Roger's right field position and his uniform number 9.
Kansas City traded Repoz to the Angels where he played for parts of six seasons. During the end of his time with the A's and his first few years with the Angels, Repoz set a major league record that still stands today. Starting on June 27, 1967 and continuing until May 24, 1970, Roger Repoz had 1,018 plate appearances, 894 at-bats without grounding into a double play.
His best year with the Angels was 1970. He was the starting Right Fielder, played in 137 games, 407 at-bats, 18 homeruns, 47 RBIs, and a .238 average. He was second on the team in home runs, and amongst the league leaders in triples.
Repoz was the starting right fielder in an historic Angels game on July 3, 1970. In the first inning, Roger hit a triple and later scored the first run. It would be the only run that Clyde Wright would need that night, as he went on to pitch the second no-hitter in Angels history.
After his best season with the Angels, Dick Walsh the Angels General Manager called him in to discuss his contract. Repoz was offered a $500 raise. This was before free agency when baseball's reserve clause was still in place and the players basically had to accept whatever the team offered. When Roger showed his obvious disappointment in the offer, Walsh told him, "if you don't like it, grab a lunch pail."
He played the 1971 season for $28,000, his largest salary in the big leagues, but significantly less than many players on the team without his kind of numbers were making.
On April 24, 1971 at Anaheim Stadium, Repoz notched his name in the record books by hitting the first walk-off grand slam in Angels' history. The Angels were trailing the Baltimore Orioles 4-3 in the 9th, and Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver had his pitcher Dick "Turkey" Hall intentionally walk Ken McMullen to load the bases so that they could pitch to Roger Repoz. Needless to say, Repoz made Earl Weaver and the Orioles regret that decision.
Roger was traded in 1972 from the Angels to the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles then sold his contract, along with Don Buford's, to the Japanese big leagues. He would go on to play an additional five seasons in Japan. In 1975 while playing for the Yakult Swallows, Repoz hit .292 with 27 homeruns and 70 RBIs. The following year he hit .274, 36 home runs, and 81 RBIs.
In Japan he made $68,000., and with incentives once made over $90,000 for the season. Repoz hit the 15,000th home run in Japanese baseball history, an interesting bit of Japanese baseball trivia that just may win you a free sake at a sushi bar sometime! Hitting the milestone home run was supposed to win the player who hit it 300,000 yen (approx $10,000), but because it was hit by a Gaijin (foreign player), Repoz says he received nothing.
I asked him what he thought about Tom Selleck's movie "Mr. Baseball" about an aging American baseball player who extends his career by playing in Japan. Although he liked the movie, in reality he said it was "ten times worse." The umpires had a "Gaijin strike zone" he called it. "Anything a couple inches off of either side of the plate, you better be swingin'."
Repoz worried about finishing his baseball career and transitioning back to a normal life. "What am I going to do now?" he thought. "I'm 37 years old with a wife and two kids and no skills other than playing ball. He bounced around a few jobs before landing a job as a quality control supervisor at Fabrica Carpets in Santa Ana where he worked for 26 years before retiring in 2008.
He still keeps in touch with a few of his old Angels teammates, mainly pitchers Tom Murphy, Paul Doyle, and Clyde Wright. He participated in the 1985 Angels Old Timer Game at Anaheim Stadium and has an Angel Alumni card that gets him front row parking and admittance into any game he wants to attend.
One of his recent visits back to Anaheim Stadium occurred on April 13, 2011 when he was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of the franchises 50th anniversary celebration.
Both of Roger's sons played minor league baseball. His oldest son Craig played at Fullerton College and in 1985 was the New York Mets' first round draft pick in the secondary phase (5th overall).
Roger and his second wife Roberta live in Fullerton near Amerige Heights shopping center with their two dogs: Reign and Maggie. Roger is now retired and enjoys candle making, working out at the gym, and driving his black Corvette with his personalized license plate which reads, "NYYALUM."
He says that he still receives two or three fan letters a week requesting his autograph, and while I was there a fan letter with a New York postmark arrived. It was from a retired NYPD officer requesting his signature on three of Roger's 1972 Topps baseball cards.
Before I left, Roger showed me the Yankee logo he has tattooed on his left shoulder, and gave me one of the candles he had created. I didn't learn much about my first major league game, but I did meet the star of the game, and a fellow Fullertonian with a rich, first-hand, history of our national pastime.
Presented by Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
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