Roger Erickson was born in Springfield, Illinois on August 30, 1956. Erickson attended Lanphier High School in Springfield where he played baseball and basketball in the same school that family friend and MLB Hall of Famer Robin Roberts also attended. After attending junior college for one year Erickson was given a baseball scholarship by coach Ron Maestri to attend the University of New Orleans where he pitched for two seasons (1976-1977). The UNO Privateers played in the NCAA regional’s in 1977.
Erickson was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the third round of the June 1977 draft was signed by scout Ed Dunn and assigned to start pro ball at the AA level with the Orlando Twins in the Southern league. In 14 starts in Orlando, Erickson had 10 complete games and pitched 109 innings posting a 8-4 record with a 1.98 ERA. Erickson came a couple of innings short of winning the ERA title because Orlando skipper Johnny Goryl pulled Erickson with a 5-0 lead in the second to the last game of the season. After the Orlando season ended, the Twins organization sent Erickson to pitch in the Florida Instructional league even though the 20 year-old Erickson had already thrown 89+ innings for UNO and 109 more innings at Orlando that season. Erickson was a non-roster invitee to the Twins 1978 spring training where he had a great spring and made the Minnesota Twins starting rotation as a 21 year-old in just his second year of pro ball. Earlier that spring Twins manager Gene Mauch was asked if Erickson would make the team and he responded to reporters by saying that “no punk kid coming out of college can make the big leagues” but by the end of spring training Mauch had to eat those words. Erickson went on to have a great rookie season leading the team in starts with 37, complete games with 14, innings pitched with 265.2 and strikeouts with 121 not to mention setting a new Twins team record with 10 pick-offs. On April 22, 1978 the Twins were playing the California Angels in a Saturday afternoon game in front of only 6,566 fans at Met Stadium when in the fourth inning with two outs Roger Erickson threw the 2-1 pitch behind Angels second baseman Bobby Grich, who charged the mound and hit Erickson with his forearm; both benches cleared and a brawl was underway; in this video you can see Twins outfielder Rich Chiles come flying in and knock both Grich and Erickson down to the ground. Grich was sent to an early shower by umpire Jim McKean for his efforts. Another wonderful Minnesota Twins historical site called Classic Minnesota Twins did a nice piece on this brawl that you can view here. After starting 1979 with a complete game win it was all down hill for Erickson. The Twins had been trying to teach Erickson who was not a big fan of a change-up how to throw a slider and he believed that it ended up hurting his elbow. Erickson mentioned that he had felt a twinge in his elbow late in 1978. The Twins sent Erickson to Toledo in mid June and called him back up to the big leagues in early August and when the season ended Erickson had a 3-10 record and a 5.63 ERA. After the 1979 season was over Erickson had elbow surgery and had his ulnar nerve scraped to relieve pressure. Coming off of elbow surgery, the 1980 season turned out to be one of Erickson’s best with him throwing 191 innings and posting a 3.25 ERA and finishing among the league leaders in that category. His record however; was an unlucky 7-13. During the strike-shortened 1981 season which was also the Twins final season at Met Stadium Erickson had just 18 starts. The reason for only 18 starts was that in the second inning of a game on August 18th Detroit Tiger outfielder Kirk Gibson hit a liner back at Erickson that hit Erickson’s thumb. Erickson ended up pitching three more innings before calling it a day. The following day he had his thumb x-rayed and the results were not good, the thumb was broken and his season was over. After starting out the 1982 season with a 4-3 mark for a Twins team that was only 11-23 at the time, the Twins traded Erickson and Butch Wynegar to the New York Yankees for pitchers Pete Filson, John Pacella, infielder Larry Milbourne and a bunch of money. Twins fans were upset with the trade and many accused Calvin Griffith of having a fire sale because just a day earlier they had traded closer Doug Corbett and infielder Rob Wilfong to the Angels and several weeks before that the team had traded Roy Smalley and Gary Serum to the Yankees. Erickson pitched in only 21 games combined for the Yankees during the 1982 and 1983 seasons. The Yankees never really defined Erickson’s role on the team and used him in the bullpen and as a starter. In addition, different Yankee pitching coaches tried to change Erickson’s delivery and the position of Erickson’s non-pitching hand during his delivery. During this process Erickson developed a sore shoulder and after he and the Yankees disagreed on a course of treatment the Yankees traded Erickson to Kansas City after the 1983 season but Erickson would never pitch in the big leagues again, at the age of 27 his big league career was over. Erickson tried to make a come back in 1984, 1987, and again in 1989 and spent some time pitching in Mexico and Italy but it was not to be and his playing career was over. Erickson was offered and accepted a coaching job in the Cardinals organization in his hometown of Springfield and served as the teams pitching coach in 1990 and 1991. Erickson was drafted by and played for the San Bernardino Pride of the Senior Proffesional Baseball Association in 1990 but in December of 1990 the league folded and never resumed play.
Erickson left organized ball behind after the 1991 season and went into the sporting goods business with a friend but that did not go as well as expected so Erickson got into the batting cage business for about 10 years before moving to Georgia where he spent the next fifteen years of his life working in a winery. About four years ago Erickson was bitten by a black widow spider that caused his heart to go into Atrial Fibrillation (Afib) and he ended up having to have his heart shocked back into rhythm. Erickson now enjoys living in Georgia with his wife and is looking for the right location to start-up another batting cage business.
The interview with Roger Erickson took place on December 5, 2014 and is 1 hour and 26 minutes in length.