Obituary: Rogelio “Roger” Moret (1949-2020)

RIP to Roger Moret, who was one of the aces on the Red Sox pitching staff as they reached the World Series in 1975. The lefthander was also one of the most dominant pitchers in Puerto Rican baseball. He died on December 7 in his home of Guayama, Puerto Rico, at the age of 71 from cancer. Moret played for the Boston Red Sox (1970-75), Atlanta Braves (1976) and Texas Rangers (1977-78).

Rogelio Moret was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico on September 16, 1949. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in 1968, once he had finished high school, for an $8,000 bonus. He was assigned to the Waterloo Hawks of the Midwest League, where he would first meet some of his future big-league teammates like Carlton Fisk and Bill Lee. Moret made 24 appearances, 9 of which were starts, and ended with a 6-6 record and a fine 2.44 ERA in 81 innings. He also struck out 75 batters. It wasn’t long before he picked up the nickname of “The Whip,” because of the nasty fastball that he fired at batters with his long, thin left arm.

Moret won his first 7 decisions at Class-A Winter Haven in the Florida State League in 1969. He struggled a bit after that winning streak and finished the season with a 12-6 record in 25 starts. He had 125 strikeouts, but he also walked 106 batters and had 21 wild pitches. He was still named an All-Star and earned an invitation to the Sox training camp in 1970.

Moret showed up late to camp and started the season in AA Pawtucket. After winning 11 games and showing some improved control, Moret was called up to the majors in September. He certainly caught the attention of the Boston sportswriters, but it was more for his physical appearance. The 20-year-old stood 6’4″ and weighed 170 pounds. He was “built like an undernourished Don Knotts” whose muscles “looked like eggs rolled in a handkerchief,” they wrote.

“I never saw such a skinny guy,” said Senators manager Ted Williams. But then Moret started pitching. His first appearance was a scoreless inning against Baltimore on September 13, 1970. On September 17, he threw 4 scoreless innings in relief against the Yankees and picked up his first MLB win. He allowed just 2 hits and a walk in the 3-1 win. It came a day after his 21st birthday.

Baltimore’s Frank Robinson, who managed Moret in Puerto Rico, knew what he could do. “That kid Moret that the Red Sox brought up can pitch a lot better than most of the junk the team has. All he has to do is get his curveball over,” he said.

Moret faltered a little in his first start but still ended up with a 1-0 record and a 3.24 ERA in his 3 appearances with the Sox. Still, Boston seemed hesitant to keep him in the majors. He started 1971 in AAA Louisville, and was recalled and sent down a couple of times before he stuck on the roster as a mop-up reliever. It wasn’t until late August that manager Eddie Kasko gave him a chance to start. After back-to-back complete game wins against California and Cleveland, Moret was kept in the rotation for the final month of the season. He responded with two more wins, another complete game and his first career shutout — both against the Senators.

In the offseasons, Moret would return to Puerto Rico to play winter ball, and in the 1971-72 offseason, he was brilliant. As a member of the Cangrejeros de Santurce, he went 14-1 with a 1.81 ERA. He was teammates with the Orioles’ ace Mike Cuellar and was outperforming him. The only concern was that Moret was throwing too many innings, but he kept pitching.

Unfortunately, Moret came to spring training in 1972 with a stiff shoulder, and his control was poor when he did pitch. He started the season with the Red Sox but threw just 5 innings over 3 appearances before being sent back to the minors, where he spent the rest of the year. Moret was incredibly discouraged and had to be talked out of quitting baseball by his manager, Darrell Johnson.

Life is a lot harder down there in the minors,” he said. “And besides, the best baseball is… in the majors.”

With a brilliant 1973 season, Moret stayed in the majors for good. He made 15 starts and 15 relief appearances, and he was a lights-out pitcher either way. He won his first 10 decisions and didn’t get tagged with a loss until mid-September. He shut out the Yankees on 5 hits as part of a July 4 doubleheader, but Kasko would not put him into the starting rotation until late in the season. If there were concerns about his durability, Moret responded with 5 complete games and a couple of shutouts. Moret finished the season with a 13-2 record and an .867 winning percentage. He also had a 3.17 ERA and picked up 3 saves in relief.

Boston never could commit to putting Moret in the starting rotation. For one thing, the team had a formidable starting rotation in the mid-’70s, anchored by Lee and Luis Tiant. In addition, they had a string of effective starters to fill out the staff, including Dick Drago, Reggie Cleveland, John Curtis and Rick Wise. Those were durable pitchers who would easily throw well over 200 innings in a season, and Moret topped out at 173-1/3 innings pitched in 1974. Even though Moret completed a fair number of his starts, the team had pigeonholed him as a swingman who only picked up starts when the team’s regular starters needed an extra day of rest.

Consider Moret’s performance on June 18, 1974. The lefty had made a couple of spot starts prior to that, but that day he threw a complete game, 6-1 won over Oakland, with 10 strikeouts. The headline in The Boston Globe the next day? “Fine job, Mr. Moret, but back to the bullpen.” That was precisely the attitude of new Sox manager Darrell Johnson. “Roger will be in starting roles at times and he will be in the bullpen too. His status has not changed,” Johnson stated.

Moret said all the right things, though the swingman role was a source of frustration. “I want to be a winner and I can pitch anywhere against any team and I can beat them. I proved that a year ago,” he said. “But if the manager points to the bullpen, then I’ll go there and win the game from the bullpen.”

As noted above, Moret reached a career high in innings pitched and made 21 starts in 31 appearances in ’74. His record was a pedestrian 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA, but he had 10 complete games and a shutout to further erase questions about his durability. That shutout was a 4-0 1-hitter against the White Sox with 12 strikeouts. The only base hit he allowed was a seventh-inning grounder by Dick Allen that deflected off Moret’s glove and went for an infield hit. Though he lost the no-hitter, Boston owner Tom Yawkey handed him a $1,000 bonus for the game.

The Red Sox, which had been competitive in previous seasons, finally finished first in the AL East with a 95-65 record. Moret had a typical season: he began as a reliever, moved to the rotation to give the other starters extra rest, and then he pitched too well to go back to the pen. He won 14 games against 3 defeats, leading all of baseball with a .824 winning percentage. He wasn’t quite as dominant as he had been in the past, as his ERA was 3.60, and his strikeout totals had dropped to 80 in 145 innings.

Moret was the odd man out in the postseason rotation. He threw a scoreless inning against Oakland in the AL Championship Series and made three appearances in the World Series against Cincinnati. He was brought into Game Three after a controversial play in which Cincinnati’s Ed Armbrister dropped a bunt and got in the way of Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk. Fisk made a wild throw to second that allowed baserunner Cesar Geronimo to reach third base. There was no interference call made, and Armbrister reached base. Moret was brought in to replace Jim Willoughby and intentionally walked Pete Rose to load the bases. He struck out Merv Rettenmund but game up a single to Joe Morgan, giving the Reds a 6-5 win in 10 innings.

After the season, Boston traded Moret to the Atlanta Braves for lefty reliever Tom House. Boston had a surplus of starting pitchers, and the Braves were in dire need of a starter. But I can’t help but wonder if there was more to the trade than that.

In August of 1975, Moret was scheduled to make a start against Baltimore. The night before the start, he was injured in a car accident in Connecticut at 4:30 in the morning. He suffered some cuts to his face when he slammed into the back of a truck that had stopped on a foggy road. He missed the start, of course, but the question was, what was Moret doing in Connecticut at 4:30 in the morning? Some unspecified disciplinary action was levied on him, but he was not suspended.

An article about Moret that ran years after his retirement also raised some unpleasant issues. The Sox had suspected that Moret was smoking marijuana way back in 1972, but they never punished him or pursued the matter. Did the Boston Red Sox deal him away to Atlanta without letting them know about the drug problems? Given Moret’s age — he had just turned 26 at the end of the 1975 season — it seems odd to trade a successful left-handed starting pitcher for a reliever. At the time of the deal, Moret had a .695 winning percentage, which was the best of any active pitcher.

Moret left Boston with some fiery words, accusing manager Johnson of having a bias against Latin players (Tiant, being too good a pitcher to replace, was the lone exception). He predicted Boston would struggle without him and that he would win 20 games with Atlanta. Eddie Robinson, the Braves GM at the time, was glad to have Moret to bolster the starting rotation, but the lefty ended up spending most of 1976 in the bullpen. He struggled in the new league, with a career-worst 5.00 ERA in 77-1/3 innings and a 3-5 record.

Moret also missed time for what the Braves termed “family problems.” What in fact happened was an escalating series of troubling behavior. First, he allegedly pulled a gun on teammate Willie Montanez, accusing him of being the father of Moret’s first child. He later had a violent seizure in his Atlanta apartment, and Montanez stayed with him until it had passed. The final episode was either a seizure or an outburst so violent that he had to be admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York City. He later recalled that it took six people to get him into a straitjacket, and he was left on a scar on his chin for when he was thrown to the floor in the hospital.

After the 1976 season, Moret was traded to the Texas Rangers, along with pitchers Adrian Devine and Carl Morton, outfielders Ken Henderson and Dave May and $250,000 for Jeff Burroughs. For the second straight year, he was acquired by general manager Eddie Robinson, who had been fired in Atlanta and hired in Texas.

Source: Chicago Tribune, February 1, 1987.

“My relationship with him was always good and I thought he was a pretty good pitcher,” said Robinson in 1987. He had left the Braves before the Bellevue hospitalization and reportedly was not told about Moret’s mental health problems. “If I had thought there was anything like that wrong, I would never have traded for him,” he said.

Moret had physical problems as well and underwent surgery in spring training to relieve a circulatory problem in his arm. When he was able to pitch, Moret had a 3-3 record in 1977 with a 3.73 ERA. He made a total of 18 appearances, including 8 starts, and saved 4 games.

Moret’s mental problems resurfaced on April 12, 1978 in Arlington Stadium. He walked off the field after batting practice, stripped off his uniform and threw it in the trash. He then went into a catatonic trance in front of his locker, holding a shower shoe in his right hand. He couldn’t move for nearly an hour. Rangers manager Billy Hunter shouted, “Get him out of here. I don’t want no statues in my clubhouse!”

Moret spent three weeks at the Arlington Neuropsychiatric Center. He returned to the Rangers but only pitched in 7 games the whole season. Texas released him in March of 1979. He attempted to come back with Cleveland in 1980 but did not make the team.

Moret continued to pitch in the Puerto Rican Winter League into the mid-1980s, but his major-league career was over. In 9 seasons, he had a 47-27 record for a .635 winning percentage and a 3.66 ERA. He struck out 408 batters in 168 games, including 82 starts. He completed 24 games, threw 5 shutouts and had 12 saves. Per Baseball Reference, he was worth 7.1 Wins Above Replacement.

Moret’s problems continued to mount in Puerto Rico. when he pitched, sometimes he would make as many as 20 straight throws to first base, apparently forgetting about the batter. Other times he just walked off the mound with no explanation. He was eventually released early in the 1983-84 season. “They told me, ‘You look alright on the outside, but we don’t know what’s going on inside you,” Moret later related.

Moret struggled to get by, as an article by Paul Hagen of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1987 related. He was put in a hospital in San Juan for months at a time. He had lost his earnings from professional baseball, and he wasn’t sure just where the money went. His occasional violent behavior led to a divorce, and he was arrested in 1985 for possession of marijuana. He was sentenced to five years in prison after pleasing guilty of drug possession with intent to distribute; I can’t find any information about whether he served the sentence or not. A psychiatrist in San Juan who had been treating Moret diagnosed him with chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia, citing that the pressure of playing major-league baseball contributed to his problems.

Sadly, Moret’s trance in the Rangers’ locker room became sort of a running gag among some sportswriters in Texas, as some people wrote about a “voodoo curse” that the pitcher placed on the team. If a similar situation happened today, a player would hopefully have access to all the help he needed and would be able to progress at his own schedule. Some players have gone public with their issues over anxiety and other mental health problems and found support. Moret was hospitalized for a couple weeks, pushed into a press conference to announce his return and put back on the mound. If Moret had shoulder or elbow surgery, he wold have gone through an extensive rehab. But because the problems were inside his head, they became subject to jokes, and the team seemed more concerned about making him appear “normal” again than making sure he was truly healthy.

There is not much available about Roger Moret’s life beyond that 1987 article. He attended a reunion of the 1975 Red Sox team in 2014, and he looked healthy. One can only hope that he enjoyed many years of peace and quiet in his retirement

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