Joe Roggins was Hank Greenberg’s good-luck charm


14-year old Joe Roggins, a bat boy and mascot to Hank Greenberg, has a glove signed by Hollywood stars George Raft and William Fraley at the 1935 World Series in Detroit.

Ballplayers are nothing if not superstitious, and the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers of the 1930s were no exception. Goose Goslin, for example, always wanted his bat delivered to him in the batter’s box, while Schoolboy Rowe never picked up a glove with his right hand. So when word reached the club that a local sandlot team had won four straight amateur titles with little Joe Roginski as its mascot, Alex Okray, the equally superstitious clubhouse manager of the Tigers, brought him into the fold.

Hank Greenberg took the 13-year-old batboy, who lived on the city’s west side, under his wing. However, Joe Roginski didn’t go by his given name; he was Joe Roggins to the Tigers. As his son Michael once recalled, the boy “was afraid of being Polish. He thought if the club found out he was Polish, he wouldn’t be around long. He wanted to fit in, so that’s why he changed his name. He thought Roggin sounded Irish.” In fact, when Joe grew up and started dating, his future wife assumed he was Irish. “When they were dating,” Michael said, “he wouldn’t take her home because his parents spoke Polish.”

Joe’s attempt to disguise his Polish ancestry was not terribly unusual in an era when ballplayers and factory workers alike thought they could get a leg up on prejudice by anglicizing their names. Thus the major leagues fielded players like Aloysius Syzmanski, who made it into the Hall of Fame as Al Simmons, and Detroit sandlotter Casimir Kwietniewski, who became Cass Michaels after being signed by the Chicago White Sox.

Greenberg, who took considerable abuse for being Jewish, undoubtedly saw in Joe some of his own struggle to be accepted. He occasionally took the boy on road trips and would visit the modest Roginski home on Wesson Avenue. “Hank would come over and have a bowl of czarnina, duck blood soup,” recalled Joe’s brother, Stanley. “Word would get out and a half-hour later there was 500 kids gathering outside.”

As Greenberg pursued his first home-run title in 1935, he developed a routine of always warming up before games by playing catch with his good-luck charm. And after he clouted one into the seats, he insisted that Roggins be the first to greet him at home plate.

The ritual continued into the World Series that year against the Chicago Cubs. After dropping the first game at Navin Field, the Tigers rebounded to win Game Two. Greenberg smashed a two-run homer in the first inning; as always, Roggins was standing at home plate, waiting to shake his hand first.

This time, though, Greenberg’s good-luck charm failed him. Later in the game, Greenberg collided with Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett, injuring his wrist and knocking him out for the rest of the Series. The Tigers wound up winning their first championship without their big gun in the lineup.

Over the next few seasons, the maturing Roggins became almost as familiar a figure around Navin Field as Mickey Cochrane and Charlie Gehringer. Greenberg’s special older-brother relationship with him continued until both went into the service during World War II. After that their paths never crossed again.

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