Dave Roberts: The Jewish Pitcher That Was Not Jewish
There have been four major league baseball players with the name Dave Roberts. The one that everybody knows is the only one that never played for Houston. That said, all three that did play for Houston had amazing careers for very different reasons.
The third Dave Roberts was a pitcher with an unusual skill: he could also hit. When he played for the Astros, he was a great pitcher. He dominated the competition and was only traded away because the Tigers made an unbelievable trade for Milt May, who was one of the best catchers in baseball. He would go on to maintain a decent record as a pitcher, but his value for National League teams lied in the fact that he was a good pitcher with a great ability to hit.
His best season came in 1978 with the Cubs when he maintained a batting average of .327. His lifetime batting average was just under .200. He has gone down in history as one of the best Jewish pitchers in MLB history. He is fourth in wins, innings pitched, and strikeouts among Jewish pitchers. He was certainly never a Sandy Koufax, but he is a legend among the Jewish community.
He is, without question, the most successful of the three Dave Roberts to play for the Houston Astros. In 1979 he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and helped them make their historic playoff run that culminated in an exciting World Series victory. While Roberts did not play in the playoffs, he was still an integral piece to clinching the title opportunity as a late-season closer.
Life after baseball became deeply affected by an event that occurred during his playing days. When he was a young man, baseball did not pay enough to keep food on his table, so he took a second job working in a boiler room. This decision would impact him in an unforeseeable way. Roberts’ Jewish heritage did not actually have any bearing on his religious beliefs. He was an adamant member of the Greek Orthodox Church and even helped his brother found a church that was attended by several former teammates. He would help his friends and family through tough times by reminding them of his struggles to survive while pursuing a career in baseball.
He believed that it was his willingness to work hard at two jobs gave him the ability to be so successful. It was, however, this very job that would be his undoing. At the time, boiler rooms used a lot of asbestos. Despite knowing that it was harmful, many businesses opted to keep using it because it was so cheap to manufacture. This exploitation still impacts thousands of families every year. Dave Roberts would not be lucky enough to escape from this malfeasance. In 2009, he died of lung cancer.
In the end, he likely considered his life to be enormously successful. He would be overshadowed by the only Dave Roberts to never put on an Astros uniform, but he was unquestionably the most talented and successful Dave Roberts the Astros ever hired.