Forgotten Friars: Bip Roberts
By Billy Brost
If I were to walk up to you and ask what you remember about Leon Roberts‘ career with the San Diego Padres, you’d most likely look at me like and think “What the hell are you talking about?” I know. I didn’t realize Leon was his birth name either. I did know however, that no parent would dare purposely name their baby “Bip”, but that is what Padres’ fans knew him as during his two separate tenures in San Diego. Let’s take a closer look at Bip Roberts.
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The Padres snatched the unprotected Roberts in the Rule V Draft, after he stole 90 bases in his first two professional seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Some saw Roberts as the heir at second base for the speedy Alan Wiggins, who had helped the Padres reach the World Series in 1984. Roberts, because of his Rule V status, had to be on the Padres’ big league roster, or risk losing him back to Pittsburgh. During his rookie season, he stole 14 bases in 26 attempts. His stay with the parent club would be short though. The Padres wanted him to hit a little better, so back to Triple-A he went for the next two seasons.
Upon Bip’s return to the Friars in 1989, he didn’t disappoint. He hit .301, swiped 21 bags, and scored 81 runs. By this time, Bip had morphed from a second baseman into a super speedy, utility man that played the middle infield as well as some outfield. He followed up that magnificent campaign with another solid season in 1990, finishing in the National League’s top 10 in stolen bases with 46, runs scored with 104, and doubles with 36.
Roberts played in only 117 games during the 1991 campaign due to leg and shoulder injuries, but hit .281, with more than 25 stolen bases. The Padres had an opportunity to get an elite closer when the Cincinnati Reds came calling, and Roberts was shipped to the Queen City for Randy Myers just before Christmas, 1991.
Injuries continued to plague Roberts and derail what was once a promising career as a speedster, and after playing in only 83 games with the Reds in 1993, Roberts returned to San Diego for his second go around with the Friars. During that strike-shortened 1994 season, one that is best remember by Padres fans as having cost franchise icon Tony Gwynn the chance to hit .400, Roberts actually recorded a big league best, 24-game hitting streak. When the season ended, Roberts had a .320 batting average with 20 stolen bases–a nice resurgence upon returning to San Diego.
As had been the case throughout most of his career, injuries kept Roberts off the field quite a bit for the Friars once baseball returned in 1995. He did hit over .300 once again, with 20 stolen bases in only 296 at-bats (73 games). At the end of the 1995 season, Roberts’ time in San Diego was over once and for all, as the team dealt him to the Kansas City Royals for Wally Joyner. Three years later, Bip’s big league career was over. A speedy, versatile player who drove opposing pitchers crazy, hopefully old school Padres’ fans won’t soon forget Leon “Bip” Roberts.