Apr 25, 2017

2000 NL Champion Mets Coach: Cookie Rojas (1997-2000)

Octavio Victor Rojas Rivas was born on March 6, 1939 in Havana Cuba. His father wanted him to be a doctor, but Cookie wanted to play baseball for the Havana Sugar Kings instead. He was eventually signed as a second baseman by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 at the age of 17. 

He got out of Cuba as it was going into political turmoil, debuting as the Reds starting second baseman in the first game ever played at the new Dodger Stadium in 1962. A week later he got his first career hit off the great Sandy Koufax.

After one season with the Reds he was traded to the Phillies as rookie Pete Rose was in the Reds plan as the second baseman of their future. Rojas earned the starting second base job in Philly, leading the league in fielding percentage three straight seasons. He batted over .290 twice, including .a 303 average (8th in the league) in 1965 as he made his first All Star team. He would spend seven seasons in Philadelphia being amongst the league’s top ten in singles & sacrifice hits twice. In 1967 he led the league with 16 sac hits batting .259.

In October 1969 he was part of the famous Curt Flood trade, as he, Dick Allen and Jerry Johnson went to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Tim McCarver, Curt Flood, Joe Hoerner & Byrone Browne. Flood refused the trade and challenged the reserve clause, but was soon forced out of the game since no one really backed him that early on. Rojas will forever be remembered for sporting thick frame eye glasses during his playing days.

Rojas struggled mightily in St. Louis & by June he was sent to the Kansas City Royals for Fred Rico. In K.C. he became one of the American League’s best second baseman of the early seventies. In 1971 he batted .300 with a .357 on base % & posted a .991 fielding percentage quickly becoming a Royals fan favorite.

He made four straight All Star teams from 1971-1974, making history as well. In the 1972 Mid Summer Classic at Atlanta he became the first AL player born outside of the United States to hit a HR in an All Star Game. The HR came in the 8th inning off Montreal's Bill Stoneman, it was a two run shot (scoring Carlton Fisk) putting the AL ahead. The NL would tie it & win the game in the bottom of the 10th on a Joe Morgan base hit.

Rojas posted fielding percentages over .980% through the 1975 season & never made more than 13 errors in a season during his A.L. years.

Rojas was a good contact hitter, who didn’t strike out too often, only going down on strikes fifty times or more twice in his entire career. He was a pure singles hitter, who didn’t hit for power, (like most second baseman of his era) never hitting more than 9 HRs in a season. 

In 1973 he had career highs in RBIs (69) & doubles (69) while batting .276. He played in two ALCS with the Royals, batting .333 overall with an RBI in the 1976 series.

He was eventually released by the Royals after the 1977 season, at the age of 38, with the arrival of long time Royal second baseman Frank White. In his 16 year playing career Rojas would play 1833 MLB games with 1660 hits, 254 doubles, 25 triples, 54 HRs & 593 RBIs while batting .263 lifetime.

Retirement: After his playing days he became a coach & major league scout. Rojas had two brief stints as manager; first with the California Angeles (1988) & second with the Florida Marlins (1996) for just one game after Rene Lachemann was fired. He was only the third Cuban born manager to ever manage in the major leagues.

Rojas joined the New York Mets, as the team's third base coach under Bobby Valentine from 1997-2000. During the 1999 post season Rojas came down the coaching line and argued a foul ball call with umpire Charlie Williams. He then got into a shoving match and was suspended for five games.

He returned as the third base coach during the Mets 2000 Mets pennant season, before leaving the organization. He went on to serve as bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays from 2001-2002.

Broadcaster: Rojas currently does Spanish television broadcasts for the Florida Marlins. He is the father of former MLB player Victor Rojas who currently works on the MLB Network.

Family: His son Victor Rojas is a Los Angeles Angels  TV broadcaster & his son Mike Rojas is the Detroit Tigers bullpen coach.

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