BILLINGS — Former Major League Baseball pitcher Les Rohr, the second overall pick in the 1965 amateur draft and a member of the 1969 "Miracle Mets", died Friday at age 74.
An obituary for Rohr is posted on the Cremation & Funeral Gallery website.
Rohr's younger brother, Roger Rohr, confirmed his brother's death to The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com. No services will be held, per Les' wishes, Roger said.
“We’ll have a get-together next summer and spread his ashes,” Roger said, noting that would likely occur at one of Les’ favorite fishing holes or places to hunt.
Before reaching the big leagues, Rohr was also an American Legion baseball star in the Magic City and played for legendary coach Ed Bayne.
According to his obituary, Rohr was also a three-year starter for the Billings West basketball team and was a member of the 1963 state champion Golden Bears.
Roger Rohr, 72, said he admired his older brother.
“Having Les being successful and throwing the ball and doing the things he did, you look up to him and admired him,” Roger said, noting his parents were also proud of Les. “As he achieved that notoriety, the family just followed along and watched him mature and go through Legion to the majors. It was all good.”
Rohr's overall record in the majors was 2-3 and he had a 3.70 earned-run average. He pitched in six games, including four starts, and threw 24.1 innings with 20 strikeouts.
Rohr was promoted to the Mets in September 1969, the year they became the "Miracle Mets" for rallying to catch the Chicago Cubs from a huge August deficit and then beating the Baltimore Orioles 4 games to 1 for the World Series title. Billings’ Dave McNally was a star on that Baltimore team.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound southpaw pitched in one game that year and wasn’t on the postseason roster. However, Rohr watched the Fall Classic games in New York from the dugout and bullpen and said in interviews with The Gazette that he took part in the celebration in the locker room.
“Les’ talent speaks for itself. At a very young age, he was on that 1969 Mets team and played for them that year,” said Billings American Legion Baseball chairman Jeff Ballard, who also played in the major leagues from 1987-1994. “He got to sit and watch the World Series, from my understanding, from the bench.
“You have to be a highly talented player to be a part of that team. It says a lot about him from that standpoint.”
Rohr, who was born in England and moved to Billings when he was 6 months old, was the second player drafted and the first player ever selected by the Mets as the inaugural free-agent draft was in 1965. The Gazette reported that Rohr signed a bonus contract in excess of $50,000 after he graduated from Billings West.
He is one of four players from the Billings American Legion Baseball program to make a Major League Baseball team, along with McNally, Joe McIntosh, and Ballard, all pitchers. Rohr spent parts of three seasons with the Mets — 1967, ’68 and ’69.
Both of Rohr’s major league victories occurred against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1967, with one of them against Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale.
In his big league debut on Sept. 19, 1967 at Shea Stadium, Rohr tossed six innings and and allowed six hits, three runs (two earned), walked three and fanned six and earned the victory in a 6-3 win over Los Angeles.
When the Mets visited Dodger Stadium on Sept. 30, 1967, Rohr improved his season record to 2-1 as New York topped the Dodgers 5-0. Rohr went eight innings, and allowed six hits, zero runs, two walks and struck out seven. Drysdale took the loss, pitching eight innings and allowing 10 hits and four earned runs.
Injuries, including hurting his pitching elbow while working 2.1 innings in a 24-inning game in 1968 at the Astrodome — in which Rohr was the losing pitcher in a 1-0 setback — led him to retire from professional baseball early.
His final year was 1970, when he pitched for the Mets’ Triple A (Tidewater) and Double A (Memphis) affiliates, going 8-7 overall with a 4.60 ERA. The Mets would sell his rights to the Milwaukee Brewers on Oct. 20, 1970.
A Gazette article said physical ailments, including back problems, bothered him throughout his final minor league season of 1970. Overall, he played parts of six seasons in the minors.
“He had such a brilliant start, but with injuries, it was probably not the way he wanted to go out, but it is what it is,” Roger Rohr said.
According to Gazette archives, in his final Legion season of 1964 he fanned 253 batters in 130 innings with a 23-0 won-loss record and a 0.28 ERA as Billings won the state title.
Retired Gazette sports writer Ed West remembers watching Rohr pitch at old Cobb Field while West was a student in high school.
“He was a big strikeout type of pitcher,” West said. “He could really bring it. He was a dominant pitcher in Legion ball.
“I remember him striking out a lot of guys. He was kind of like McNally in a way.”
Roger remembers playing catch with his brother when they were both young.
“I finally gave up catching him because he was throwing too hard,” Roger said with a laugh. “That was back when we played baseball in my dad’s backyard and the dog kennels were behind me. I think he even threw them through that.”
Rohr also spent time coaching in the Billings American Legion Baseball program after his playing career ended.
"It was part of his life and helping young kids learn how to throw the ball," Roger Rohr said. "He enjoyed doing that and it was something he could contribute and bring back to the community helping with the Legion programs. He did that for quite a few years."
Said Ballard: "It's a sad day that Billings lost one of its greatest players."
"When he got done, Les was always someone who kept to himself, but he took the time to be around the Legion program several different times being the pitching coach for various teams," Ballard added. "It was great to have a talent like Les with all his experience come back and give to this program the way he did."
According to Rohr's obituary, survivors are his son Jason Rohr, his daughter Angel (Tanner) Everson, grandsons Damon and Diego, his brother Roger (Carol) Rohr, and nephews Dain Rohr and Schyler (Mimi) Rohr. Memorials may be made to the American Legion Baseball program the family requested in the obituary.