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Cookie Rojas

April 20, 2010

You don’t hear about Cookie Rojas so much anymore, but at the time this 1977 card came out (in what would turn out to be Rojas’ last year in the majors), you could argue for his inclusion in the starting lineup of two franchises’ all-time rosters. He’s kind of like a poor man’s Carlton Fisk that way. For the Philadelphia Phillies, with whom he played throughout the 1960s, his main competition for the second base spot on the all-time squad would have been fellow Cuban Tony Taylor, and though Taylor had a longer tenure with the club and is more often mentioned as a Phillies all-timer than Rojas, when Rojas’ promotion to the majors gave the team a choice between Rojas and Taylor at second base, the Phillies chose Rojas and moved Taylor to third. In Rojas’ first full season at second, in 1965, he made the all-star team, matching Taylor’s one career selection to the midsummer classic.

Rojas became an all-star mainstay for his next team, the Kansas City Royals, earning a spot on the team four years in a row from 1971 through 1974. Nonetheless, history began nudging Rojas into the shadows pretty quickly in Kansas City, when the brilliant glovework and, eventually, the surprising power of Rojas’ successor, Frank White, elevated White to a clear choice as the best second baseman the club had ever had.

Back in Philly, the pretty good second baseman club that Rojas was in with Taylor swelled to include Dave Cash, Manny Trillo, Juan Samuel, and Mickey Morandini, and by the time Chase Utley came along to settle the second base argument, Cookie Rojas seems to have dropped out of that argument altogether. (He’s not even listed as a choice in a fairly recent poll asking fans to choose the all-time Phillies team.)

I started avidly collecting cards in 1975, just as Cookie Rojas was beginning what could have been a total fade from history if not for a couple things: his glasses and his name. Out of all the glasses ever worn by any major leaguer ever, the ones seen here really were the nerdiest. You winced for Cookie Rojas. You admired Cookie Rojas. You never forgot Cookie Rojas, the professional baseball player with the glasses of a small-town spinster librarian from 1952. As for his name, it could not have been more appealing to a kid unless perhaps it was Hostess Cupcakes Rojas.  

The name had much to do with a third reason why I’ll never forget Cookie Rojas. Though you might get the idea, what with all the verbiage about it these past few years, that I was an extremely attentive lover of baseball cards back when I was a kid, in truth I was the same dufus then that I am now, given to gaps of comprehension that were (and are) so glaring as to seem intentional, willful, as if I am someone who prefers being sort of stupid about the world. It kind of added a certain mystery, not knowing everything very well. And this is how I confused, for the entirety of my childhood, Cookie Rojas with Cookie Lavagetto.

I read baseball books all the time, so I had come upon the story of Cookie Lavagetto breaking up Bill Bevens’ bid to throw the first no-hitter in World Series history in 1947. I added to my knowledge of that dramatic anecdote my glancing sense, from looking at the back of Cookie Rojas’ card, that Cookie Rojas had been around for a long time, from several years before I had even been born, and once you got several years beyond when I was born you might as well have been around since Moses parted the Red Sea. And so through stupidity and perhaps some sort of need for magic Cookie Rojas became in my mind the longest-tenured player in the majors, by far, an amazing feat considering his fairly modest stats. It was somehow a life-affirming story, this tale of Cookie Roja-getto, who after becoming an unlikely World Series hero in the immediate wake of World War II stuck around decade after decade without ever really being noticed very much, just sticking on the sidelines and enduring in his horn-rimmed glasses. As a fellow marginal type with glasses, I aspired to such a tenacious if barely visible purchase on the world. But I knew it was magical, impossible, so I didn’t look too closely into the matter, knowing that to do so would be to disperse the myth that a relative nobody could last and last. 

***

And:

Turns out I wasn’t the only one with Cookie Rojas visitations in my youth. The bespectacled second-sacker comes up in a conversation I had with Will Carroll on Will’s Baseball Prospectus podcast.

Thanks to long-time haunter of these posts “spdurph” for his very generous review of Cardboard Gods at his site, Innocents and Accidents, Hints and Allegations.

For those wishing to chime in on this site about my book, I’ve opened the comments section for that purpose here. If you have read the book and want to talk about it, please feel free, and please also consider posting a review on the page for the book on Amazon and/or on the page for the book on Goodreads. (And big thanks in advance for that.)

18 comments

  1. Stumbled across here while actually listening to the interview with Carroll-baseball nirvana for me.

    Thanks for the link.


  2. How about this for a random comment: I once rode a horse with Cookie Rojas in Venezuela. No one knew, but the saddle was loose and when Cookie dismounted, the saddle slipped and I fell, spooking the horse and getting me a kick in the back. That was pretty traumatic for a six-year-old. Other than that, the day was pretty enjoyable.


  3. Cookie Rojas always seemed like an Anachronism to me. The Name, His Cuban ancestry, And especially those 1960′s era Ernie Douglass glasses. He always seemed out of place on those ultra-70′s Royals teams with their artificial turf, polyester powder blue jerseys and their Outfield water fountains.

    I guess Cookie never received the Memo that players were now wearing gold wire rimed frames like Reggie, Dick Allen, or Jeff Burroughs.

    I remember those three players were on a poster in my optometrist’s office with a caption reading: “What do Dick Allen, Reggie Jackson, and Jeff Burroughs all have in common,,, They won the MVP Award, ’72,’73,’74 and they all wear glasses.”


  4. I became a baseball (and Phils) fan in 1964, the year they blew a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 to go. When things were going so well for the Phils that summer, my favorite sports section headline — borrowed from a movie that was popular that year — linked the double-play combination of Rojas and ss Bobby Wine as follows: “The Days Of Wine And Rojas”


  5. Can you trust a guy named Cookie? I don’t know. I’m sure that was not his given name. Can you imagine naming your kid Cookie?


  6. Cookie looks like somebody who would be featured in a documentary about the Kennedy assassination. He has a 1963 look, plus he’s Cuban, so maybe he could be at the center of some Castro conspiracy.


  7. My recollection of Cookie Rojas is as the manager of the Angels in 1988. He didn’t turn the world upside down when he ran the club (his record was 75-79), but that Angel club wasn’t exactly built to win the Series. I still remember when he was fired towards the end of the season; there wasn’t much of an explanation at the time.


  8. I remember when Rojas was a Mets’ coach during the late 90′s and the Mets played a exhibition game against the Cuban National team. Some Pro-Castro Cubans were waiving the Cuban flag around and Rojas flipped out and started a fight with them. Remember that Rojas was in his late 50′s and over-weight at the time. So it was a bizarre to see the Mets third base coach on the ground in a fight with some fans.


  9. In the ’99 series against the D-backs(the Todd Pratt series) Cookie became enraged when a flyball hit by Darryl Hamilton was called foul. He bumped the umpire and Bobby V almost got knocked to the ground trying to contain him. Of course Cookie was ejected from the game. Replays showed the umpire made the correct call. Oh Cookie.


  10. Cookie was actually suspended for the first five games of the ’99 LCS after this incident. He returned just in time to see Al Leiter fail to record an out in his game six start.


  11. Well, it looks like we are all learning about Cookie Rojas through these comments. Cookie has quite the temper! Calm down, Cookie.


  12. Shelives,

    I forgot about the Rojas suspension. I seem to also remember Rojas and Rey Ordonez boycotting some games around the time of the Elian Gonzalez affair.


  13. Growing up, my friend Will and I used to play the ’76 Royals against the ’72 A’s in Strat-o-Matic over and over. I’m not sure why – they were a part of Strat’s “36 Past Season Team” set of teams that were too new to be part of an “Oldtimers” series, and we latched on to them. I generally managed the Royals. Anyway, we loved Cookie for two reasons: a) his name was “Cookie” and b) on his baseball cards, he looked 10 years older than everyone else.


  14. I never related Cookie’s first name with the snack. Even just reading his name, I throw a little Cuban accent in there and it always comes out sounding like Kookie Rojas.


  15. I believe Cookie’s real name was Octavio.

    Always loved the 1971 Rojas card. It shows him turning a double play in an empty stadium. 71 was the first year that Topps used extensive live action shots in the set and there are a bunch of memorable ones.


  16. My Uncle Sal had glasses like that. He fought in WWII. Cookie looks like he is from the same era.

    Cookie Lavagetto and Al Gionfriddo (who robbed Joe D. of a HR in that same 1947 series) were the answers to my father’s two favorite trivia questions to ask.


  17. “As for his name, it could not have been more appealing to a kid unless perhaps it was Hostess Cupcakes Rojas.”

    Josh, you’re calling us out here, aren’t you? I don’t have the photographic proof, but Cookie was Card #2 in the 1975 set of Hostess baseball cards:
    http://tinyurl.com/2dw779q
    Baseball cards and Hostess treats… those marketing bastards really knew how to trip our triggers. I don’t have any of these cutouts in my childhood archives, though I did unearth recently a handful of those sweet 3D-image cards available in boxes of Kellogg’s cereals:
    http://tinyurl.com/2eanho6

    How in the world did any of us live long enough to see 40…? Our insides must be artificially sweetened and preserved in their entirety (not to mention our outsides).


  18. hello I was going through some childhood things and found cookies autograph from a little league banquet where he signed my program for the evening October 19,1969.it seem like yesterday thanks for letting me share this. artfieldnj@comcast.net



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