Phillies veteran Rojas focuses on the good things about 1964

Cookie Rojas played seven positions in 1964: He only missed the mound and first base.
Cookie Rojas played seven positions in 1964: He only missed the mound and first base.
Posted: July 21, 2014

COOKIE ROJAS in 1964 was only three seasons into a 16-year, four-team career. But for a while after his playing days had ended, that year and the Phillies' notorious late-season collapse still "seemed like it was yesterday."

As time has worn on, though, and Rojas' family has expanded to include 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, the former Phillies' utility man (1963-69) and fan favorite says that oft-discussed season feels much further in the past.

A five-time All-Star who also played with the Reds, Cardinals and Royals, Rojas, now 75, went on to manage and coach in the big leagues following his accomplished playing tenure. Until this spring, he spent about a dozen seasons as the Marlins' Spanish-language TV color commentator.

Rojas now spends his time with family in both Miami and Naples, Fla., although he says he would be interested in also coaching some at the low minor-league levels. Last month, he was at Citizens Bank Park with Dick Allen to commemorate Jim Bunning's 1964 perfect game against the Mets. And with this September marking 50 years since the collapse of '64, Rojas took the time this week to discuss with the Daily News his memories of that season.

Q: You've been in baseball basically your whole life since your time with the Phillies. How often are you asked about the end of the 1964 season?

A: Well, a million times. Every time that you go anyplace, the first thing they talk about is, 'Oh, you played for the Phillies. I'm a Phillies fan. Hey, you remember 1964.' Of course, I remember 1964, but it comes to a point where you have to forget about the bad times and start talking about the good times. It seems like it goes only in one direction. It was very disappointing, no question about it, 1964, for all of us that we're involved. But there's some things that happen in baseball. And what happened, too, that nobody mentioned in any article that I've seen is that the Cardinals won [eight] games in a row, Cincinnati won [nine] games in a row, and we lost 10 in a row. So nobody said anything about Cincinnati or St. Louis.

Q: Thinking back to that season, for the first 150 games, you guys overachieved compared with what the expectations were in the spring. What do you remember most about the season up until the last 12 games?

A: I think we had a great team. We had guys with a lot of talent. You had Dick Allen. You had Johnny Callison. You had Wes Covington. You had Bobby Wine. You had a bunch of guys that could play the game very well. Alex Johnson was there, too. I mean, they were pretty good ballplayers, and we had pretty good pitching. And those years, it has to be remembered, those guys would pitch eight and nine innings.

Q: Has time helped ease the sting of that season, or is it still there when you think about it?

A: For me, that is gone. There's nothing you can do about it. You have to live with it, and we lived with it and gone to our different directions now and forget about those years and just thinking about getting together with your grandchildren or going on a trip or going on a vacation and enjoying ourselves. You can't keep thinking about '64; otherwise, you'll be a miserable guy. It's gone.

Q: Everyone references Chico Ruiz's steal of home as kind of the symbol or everlasting image of those last 12 games. Other factors often mentioned regard Frank Thomas' injury or the overuse of Jim Bunning and Chris Short.

A: If you start going into the ifs, you know how many ifs you're going to find? I haven't seen any ifs in any records. It's something that happened. It happened. It was very unfortunate, especially disappointing to the fans in Philadelphia, who are the best, I think, in the country, because they know the game well and they demand 100 percent of effort. I think we gave them that, and they realized that, and that's why at the end when we came over to Philadelphia on the last game of the season, there was almost about 2,000 people in the airport. I think that was in appreciation of what kind of year we had.

More '64: Stan Hochman tells tales of the collapse.

On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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