Leon “Bip” Roberts was a true fan favorite for the San Diego Padres franchise. His all hustle attitude mixed with his small stature, resulted in instant recognition and appreciation for fans. He gave it all he had on the ball field and was a great example to other players.
Bip was one of my personal favorites. I can remember as a kid really looking up to him. I had the honor of meeting him one day at a card show in Mission Valley. He was going to be at the Scottish Rite Center and fans could meet and greet with him. As a child this was my first real interaction with someone who I really admired. I had been to many spring trainings prior to then, but the feel in Yuma was different that at an actual meet and greet autograph signing. Bip was very friendly and as a kid, you felt like the player is now your friend. It’s a great thing for a kid and made me always love him as a player.
Robert’s seven-year career as a Padres infielder/outfielder, lasted from 1986-1995 and spanned three different stints with the team. He ended his Padres career with a .298 batting average, a .361 on base percentage and 378 runs. He also stole 148 bases and hit 20 home runs for the Friars.
The 5 foot 7 inch Roberts was a switch hitter, and he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the June 1982 draft. Bip spent four seasons in the Pirates minor league system, before the Padres drafted him via the Rule 5 draft. Roberts would have to stay on the Major League roster for the whole season, or he would have to be returned back to the Pirates.
The Padres decided they liked what they saw from the young player and decided to platoon Roberts with Tim Flannery at second base. Roberts indeed stayed on the roster for the whole season and hit .253 in 101 games and 241 at bats, including .419 in the month of September. Despite that Roberts was sent to AAA where he had two great years for the Padres. Hitting .306 and .353 in 1987 and 1988. Roberts only played in the minors for the 87 season and managed only nine at bats in 1988.
The 1989 season proved to be Roberts coming out party. At the age of 25 Roberts won a spot on the 25 man roster and ended up playing 117 games for the Padres that season. He hit .301 on the season and hit .320 at the lead-off position. Bip stole 21 bases and scored 81 runs in only 329 at bats. Even more impressive is that he played 69 games in left field, 46 games at third base, 13 games at short stop and eight games at second base. He could play all over the field and was a spark-plug in the lineup.
Bip Roberts won the Padres MVP honors in 1990 while finishing 6th in the National League for the batting title with a .309 average. Roberts also slugged nine home runs with 44 RBI’s and scored 104 runs for the Padres. He played in 149 games for the Padres and looked to be a fixture in the line-up for years to come. Once again Roberts played all over the field for the team, playing mostly in left field and at third base. His natural position of second base was being manned by rookie phenom Roberto Alomar.
After a blockbuster trade of Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, Bip became the regular second baseman. He started the season that way, but ultimately played the outfield as well for the team. He only played in 117 games due to a couple of nagging injuries but still performed for the team. Hitting .281 with 26 stolen bases in 424 at bats.
My heart was broken in December of 1991 when the Padres need for a closer resulted in Bip Roberts being dealt to the Cincinnati Reds for left-handed closer Randy Myers. This was the good Myers, not the Myers the Padres fans foolishly acquired in the 1998 pennant run. Bip went on to make his first All-Star game as a Red and even finished 8th in MVP voting that season. He had an incredible year that year as the Riverfront Stadium fast passed turf catered well to Roberts game. He ended up hitting .323 that year with 44 stolen bases and 92 runs in 147 games.
The next year (1993) nagging injuries again took their toll as the Riverfront Stadium turf prevented Roberts from getting on the field routinely. He only played in 83 games hitting .240 for the Reds. He was due for free agency and the San Diego Padres won my heart again as the team signed Roberts to a 1 year-$1.5 million dollar contract.
Roberts ending up hitting .320 for the Padres in 105 games. He also stole 21 bases for the team. The next season (1995) injuries limited him to 73 games and despite that fact Roberts still hit .304 on the season. He would perform when in the line-up, but he had a hard time staying healthy. His hard play and all out hustle prevented him from playing as much as he would have liked to. In December of 1995 the Padres once again broke my heart (A common theme) as they dealt Bip to the Kansas City Royals for first baseman Wally Joyner.
At the time of the trade Padres fans were torn. They loved Roberts, but Wally Joyner was a quality first baseman and the team had a need at the position. Joyner proved to be a vital part of the 1998 National League Champion Padres team, so the trade proved out to work well for the Padres.
Bip Roberts ended up having a 12 year major league career where he hit .293 with 352 RBI’s and 264 stolen bases. He was a very under rated player, and will always be a fan favorite in San Diego. Padres fans still remember their Bipster and occasionally a Roberts jersey can be spotted in the stands at Petco Park. Currently Bip Roberts works for the Comcast SportsNet Bay Area broadcast team covering Oakland Athletics baseball.