It is the misfortune of John Roseboro, who in nearly a decade and a half of major league ball compiled an entirely respectable record, that he should be best remembered not for his batting or catching, but for the lamentable 1965 incident in which an enraged Juan Marichal tattooed Roseboro's head with his bat. As Roseboro says, "It's too bad, because a ballplayer would like to be remembered for something better than a bloody brawl...."
So in hopes of setting the record straight, Roseboro has told his life story, with the help of Bill Libby, in Glory Days with the Dodgers (Atheneum, $9.95). As sports autobiographies go, it is several cuts above the run-of-the-mill. In part, that is because Roseboro is an intelligent, well-spoken man; also because he has led a complicated, interesting life and talks about it candidly.
After several years in the minor leagues and the Army, Roseboro took over the first-string catching job for the Dodgers in 1958 (after Roy Campanula's auto accident) and held it for 10 seasons. Those were the Koufax-Drysdale years, when the Dodgers took four National League pennants and three world championships, and Roseboro remembers them with enormous affection. He has kind, but often irreverent, things to say about his teammates (notably his friend Maury Wills); fans who like locker-room gossip will enjoy the tales he tells.
A solid defensive catcher and a productive hitter, belying his lifetime .249 batting average, Roseboro looks back on his career with unboastful pride. "Frankly, I think I became the best catcher in the league in the 1960s. No Johnny Bench by any means, but Bench didn't come along until later.... I was at least one of the best in my years. I made a lot of All-Star teams and deserved it."
June 18, 1978
Of other aspects of his life, Roseboro is less pleased. No black militant, he nonetheless remembers spring-training segregation in the '50s and early '60s with bitterness. He has few kind words for the Twins and the Senators, the teams with which he played the last few years of his career. Nor does he have many for his ex-wife—though it would be nice to hear her side of the story. And his account of his postbaseball years—when bad investments bankrupted him, and he went through a humiliating search for work—is genuinely poignant.
Now Roseboro has found a new career in public relations. He has also put together a book that modestly reminds us that baseball stars are human beings, too.