He finished his career with an ERA (3.17) better than Nolan Ryan and logged more innings per season than Sandy Koufax. Yet when Steve Rogers became eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, the longtime Expos ace failed to garner a single vote.
“I needed five to eight more years and 70 more wins to really be considered,” said Rogers, who played 13 seasons and recorded 158 wins, in a 2004 interview. “My only regret is that every player gets the token one or two votes from writers in their area. And, for some reason, the Montreal writers felt I didn’t deserve their vote.”
But the 61-year-old Missouri native, who now works for the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA), has mostly fond memories of his playing career. The lanky hurler was selected to five All-Star teams and is the winningest pitcher in Expos history.
Not bad for someone who played in only two games for their varsity high school team as a junior. It wasn’t until Rogers pitched for an American Legion team in Springfield, Missouri in 1966 that he caught the eye of scouts.
“I was taken by the Yankees in the 63rd or 67th round. I think my bonus would have been a bus ticket and an apple,” joked Rogers, who chose to attend the University of Tulsa rather than sign.
En route to an Engineering degree, the talented youngster would grow three inches during his freshmen and sophomore years. By the end of college, he was considered a bona fide prospect and was selected fourth overall by Montreal in the 1971 amateur draft (Secondary Phase).
Rogers would make his major league debut in Houston on July 18, 1973, hurling eight strong innings, allowing only two runs – an impressive debut, topped only by the one-hitter he tossed in his next start.
“That was a magical season,” said Rogers, who finished with a 10-5 record and a 1.54 ERA. “It seemed like I could have put a spare jock strap on the mound and the opposition would ground into a double play.”
Rogers’ bulldog mentality made him one of the top workhorses of his era. Six times he tossed over 250 innings in a season, including logging over 300 innings in 1977.
Despite battling arm troubles for most of his career, it wasn’t until 1978 that bone chips were discovered in his elbow and he was slated for surgery.
The Expos ace would enjoy some of his finest seasons following the procedure. His last four starts of the 1981 campaign rank as perhaps his most memorable stretch. After tossing a two-hitter to help Montreal secure a post-season berth in his final regular season appearance, he would outduel the Phillies’ Steve Carlton twice in the National League Division Series.
The intense hurler would then defeat the Dodgers in Game Three of the National League Championship Series. Unfortunately, it’s the home run that he allowed to Rick Monday in the ninth inning (in a rare relief appearance) of the deciding game of that series that some remember him for.
“I love the Canadian fans, but sometimes it’s (the Monday homer) the only thing they want to talk about,” said Rogers.
The resilient righty rebounded to have his best season in 1982, winning 19 games, leading the league in ERA (2.40), and finishing second in Cy Young voting. He was also the National League’s starting pitcher for the All-Star Game in Montreal.
But the number of innings Rogers had thrown started to take its toll. Hampered by a bad shoulder, the veteran right-hander suffered through a disappointing 1984 campaign and was cut loose by the Expos in 1985. He retired later that year.
An active player rep during his career, Rogers was contacted by the MLBPA to help as a consultant in 1987. He continued his collaboration with the players’ association until he was hired full-time in 1998. In his current role, he acts as a liaison with the players and has numerous administrative responsibilities.
Despite being stationed in New York, Rogers is still held in high esteem in Canadian baseball circles. In 2005, he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame alongside Toronto Blue Jays legend Dave Stieb.
“To be remembered by Canada is special, and I mean it when I say that this will be the greatest honor I’ll ever receive in my lifetime,” said Rogers, prior to being inducted.
Despite his busy career, Rogers still tries to find time to return to the Canadian ball shrine’s induction ceremonies in St. Marys, Ont., each year. Coming back gives him the opportunity to reflect on his time with the Expos and provides his fans a chance to rub elbows with a Hall of Famer.
*This article has been adapted from articles that I’ve written for Baseball Digest and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. My hope is that it will be the first in a series of profiles of members of the 1981 Montreal Expos. The articles will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Expos only playoff team.