RIP to Vic Roznovsky, a backup catcher for five years in the major leagues and part of the 1966 World Champion Orioles team. He died in his home in Fresno, Calif., on January 18, at the age of 83. Roznovsky played for the Chicago Cubs (1964-65), Baltimore Orioles (1966-67) and Philadelphia Phillies (1969).
Victor Joseph Roznovsky was born in Shiner, Texas, on October 19, 1938. According to his family-placed obituary, he helped pay for his education at St. Ludmila Catholic Elementary School and St. Paul High School by sweeping the floors every afternoon. He played basketball at school and baseball on the weekends with his friends. He didn’t play competitive baseball until 1957, when he was an outfielder on the Shiner Clippers of the South Central Texas Amateur League.
“Of course, I had played ball in the backyard — catch and things like that,” Roznovsky later related. “I was All-Garage Door one year.”
Roznovsky attended a Pirates tryout camp and was signed to the team by scout Ray Welch, primarily on the strength of his arm. The Pirates decided to try him as an outfielder before they realized he was too slow, so he moved behind the plate. He spent 1958 and ’59 playing for a low-minors team in San Angelo, Texas. In spite of his lack of experience, hitting was not a problem for him. He didn’t have much power, but he hit in the .290s for San Angelo. He was one of the handful of players on those teams that ever reached the majors — one of his teammates in 1959 was young outfielder Willie Stargell, who was making his professional debut.
Roznovsky was acquired by the San Francisco Giants via draft over the offseason and played for Class-C Fresno and Class-D Quincy in 1960. He did much better in Fresno, batting .296. He also met his future wife, Bernadette “Bernie” Spano, and would make Fresno his home in the offseasons. Roznovsky progressed very steadily with the Giants. In 1961, he was with the Class-A Springfield Giants and batted .290. His batting average dipped a little to .264 while playing for the Double-A El Paso Sun Kings in 1962, but he added some power with 6 home runs. The following season at El Paso, he reached career highs in doubles (25) and home runs (13), and he also showed his versatility in the field by filling in at third base when the club was in a bind. Roznovsky showed he was close to the major leagues, but his debut wouldn’t come with the Giants. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the offseason minor-league draft.
“In recent years we have developed outstanding young pitchers, outfielders and pitchers, but we haven’t come up with the young catchers,” said Cubs instructor El Tappe. “In fact, the organization drafted Vic Roznovsky from the San Francisco Giant chain to provide your catching potential this season.”
The Cubs sent Roznovsky to the Triple-A Salt Lake City Bees to start the 1964 season. He continued to hit as well as he usually did, albeit with less power than he had shown in El Paso. His big break came when Cubs catcher Jim Schaffer suffered a small break — a hairline fracture in his hand. Roznovsky debuted with the Cubs on June 28 against Houston as a pinch hitter for starting pitcher Ernie Broglio and grounded out against Colt .45s pitcher Don Nottebart. His first hit came in his first start against San Francisco — he singled up the middle against pitcher Ron Herbel. Roznovsky got a fair number of starts and raised his batting average over .300 with a 3-hit performance against Houston on July 24. (The Cubs got 11 hits that day but still lost 1-0.) Eventually, his 18 strikeouts overcame his 15 hits, and he ended the season with a .197 batting average.
The Cubs spent 1965 with four different catchers getting regular playing time, but none of the other three — Ed Bailey, Dick Bertell and Chris Krug — made more appearances than Roznovsky. Bertell, who had been the Cubs primary catcher since 1961, was traded to the Giants after a prolonged slump. Roznovsky’s offensive output made the decision easier to make. Days before the trade, he drove home 4 runs in an 8-6 win over the Mets, including a 3-run homer. It was Rosnovsky’s third home run in the month of May. The first occurred on Mother’s Day — May 9 — in Chicago against the Houston Astros. His mother was watching the game in Houston. “I called after the game to let (her) know that I hit my 1st home run and she could not talk because she was crying,” he said in an interview on CatchersHome.com.
Roznovsky appeared in a total of 71 games for the Cubs in 1965, which was his career peak in the majors. He had a slash line of .221/.295/.308 with 3 home runs, 15 RBIs and 9 runs scored. He had a .984 fielding percentage as a catcher and threw out 12 of 32 baserunners. He related one tale from the season from when he was in the middle of a slump. Third base coach Al Dark started making a series of motions in the middle of Roznovsky’s at-bat. He later went to Dark and said he didn’t understand the signs. “Oh, those weren’t signs,” Dark said. “I just thought if I blessed you, it would help.”
In December, the Cubs made a trade with San Francisco and received promising catcher Randy Hundley. Hundley had been just ahead of Roznovsky when they were both Giants prospects and was poised to block him again. Fortunately for Roznovsky, the Cubs dealt him to the Baltimore Orioles at the end of March 1966 for outfielder Carl Warwick. Roznovsky later talked to the Baltimore Sun about joining his new team. He walked into the Orioles clubhouse and asked second baseman Davey Johnson, “I’m new here and haven’t been following the team. What kind of club do we have?” Roznovsky said, “Davey looked at me kind of funny and said, ‘We’re going to win it all.’ I was so amazed, I couldn’t speak.”
The 1966 Cubs, even with Hundley’s excellent rookie season, finished in tenth place. Meanwhile, Roznovsky started the year in the minor leagues but was brought to Baltimore in June. He stayed in the majors for the rest of the season as the Orioles won 97 games, captured the AL pennant and swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.
The Orioles had Andy Etchebarren as their starting catcher, so Roznovsky shared a backup role with Larry Haney. He played in 41 games and hit .237. His one home run on the season came as a pinch-hitter on August 26 against Boston. He and Boog Powell hit back-to-back pinch-homers to tie the game — the first time that had ever happened in the American League — and the Orioles won in the 12th inning when Russ Snyder singled with the bases-loaded. Rosnovsky batted twice more in that game, and each time, manager Hank Bauer had him lay down a sacrifice bunt. “Can you believe that?” the catcher said after the game. “I guess Hank figured I had hit my homer for the year.”
Roznovsky was bothered late in the season by a ruptured disc in his back that would need offseason surgery. However, he wasn’t needed in the World Series, as Etchebarren caught every inning. The Orioles were so efficient in their sweep of the Dodgers that they used just 4 pitchers and 9 position players in the entire series. “It would have been nice to at least get into the box score, but just being a part of the world championship team has to be the biggest thrill of my baseball career,” Rosnovsky said.
Roznovsky started 1967 back in the minor leagues, but the Orioles recalled him in May in an attempt to find a catcher who could hit well. Etchebarren had spent the first half of the season hitting at or below .200, and Charlie Lau had such a bad elbow that he couldn’t play defense anymore. Larry Haney hit surprisingly well in his time behind the plate, but he wasn’t a full-time starter. Rosnovsky, for his part, batted .206 and ended up pinch-hitting almost as much as he caught. He came off the bench to beat the Yankees on July 9 by singling in the go-ahead run off Mel Stottlemyre in a 2-1 Baltimore win. He didn’t hit any home runs for Baltimore, but his bat crushed 3 in one game against the Angels. It was swung by outfielder Curt Blefary, who traded in his 36-ounce bat for one of Roznovsky’s 30-ounce clubs.
Baltimore brought in a new catcher in 1968 when it selected Elrod Hendricks from the California Angels in the Rule V Draft. That move left no room for Rosnovsky on the big-league roster, and he spent the entire season in Triple-A Rochester. He broke a bone in his finger early in the season and ended up splitting time with several catchers behind the plate. The 29-year-old catcher didn’t hit well. Rosnovsky batted .238 and drove in 34 runs. He wasn’t going to be on the roster in 1969, either, and he vowed to quit baseball instead of spending another year in Triple-A. So Baltimore traded him on April 11, 1969, sending him to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for catcher John Sullivan and minor-league pitcher Tony Giresi.
The Phillies’ starting catcher was Mike Ryan, who didn’t hit well but was a good fielder. Backup catcher Dave Watkins hit even less but was at least an average fielder. Roznovsky wasn’t given a chance to field, really. He stayed on the big-league roster for the entire 1969 season and appeared twice as a catcher for a total of 4 innings. In 13 games, he had 3 hits in 13 at-bats, along with 1 walk and 1 RBI, for a .231 batting average. It was his last season of professional baseball.
Over five seasons, Rosnovsky played in a total of 205 games, with a .218/.273/.281 slash line. He had 99 hits, with 15 doubles, 1 triple and 4 home runs. He drove in 38 runs and scored 22 times. As a catcher, he threw out 42% of base-stealers, which is better than league average. He played for 10 seasons in the minor leagues and hit .278.
Rosnovsky was never forgotten by his home of Shiner, Texas, and he was inducted into the Old Timers Baseball Association in 1975. But he remained in Fresno and became a part of Spano Enterprises, a home-building company that was run by Rosnovsky’s father-in-law, Oscar. He later became a partner in the business, along with brother-in-law Stan. He served as president of the Building Industry Association of the San Joaquin Valley Inc., which was an organization made up of 350 home builders. During his first term as president, the association received an award from the National Association of Home Builders for the largest increase of new members in 1978 and the highest increase in percentage of new members. He also led the association in the 1980s.
Rosnovsky is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, Bernie, three children and a number of grandchildren.
For more information: Legacy.com