News outlets won't make Rich Rollins seem as important as he really
was after he passes away. They'll portray him as a ballplayer who played on a
World Series team, and probably little more.
But Rollins was a hot-shot ballplayer when he hit the big leagues, and would
have been a household name had that debut happened during the ESPN-era.
Even so, Rollins still received a nice smattering of attention in magazines
such as Time when he debuted. He had "burst onto the scene,"
so national publications assigned writers to cover him.
When the Twins swept the White Sox in a doubleheader at Metropolitan Stadium
early in June of 1962 to spark pennant fever in Minnesota, the Twins were in a
virtual deadlock with New York. Rollins reached base six straight times in that
The Chicago Tribune writer in Bloomington that day wrote that Rollins
"has become the baseball pin-up boy here ahead of such sluggers as
Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison." He was 24, and finished
that rookie season with 16 home runs, 96 RBI and a .298 batting average.
There were two All-Star games that summer, and Rollins started both after
receiving more votes from fellow players -- who voted for the teams at the time
-- than Mickey Mantle received.
Rollins' career ultimately settled into the routine that is typical of the
vast majority of major leaguers -- still a compliment in that most scouts who
saw him play college ball at Kent State thought he would never advance out of
the low minor leagues.
Played with broken jaw
Rollins was a fiendish worker who played handball and stayed in shape during
the off-season -- something rare back in the '60s. Floyd Baker, the man
who signed Rollins, had seen a lot of baseball and a lot of ballplayers. He
called Rollins "the most conscientious player I've ever seen."
Like so many players on the '65 team, Rollins was a smart, realistic man. In
1963, he suffered a broken jaw early in the season and said he thought it saved
He had been struggling through a bad spring and felt weak.
"I felt as if I weighed 300 pounds," he said. "Every bat felt
like it weighed three pounds. The gloves seemed awful heavy."
He survived spring training, then broke the jaw and spent half a week in the
hospital. He claimed those four days in the hospital revived him. He had no
idea why, but he emerged feeling strong.
But with his jaw wired shut, he lost weight despite draining protein shakes,
and at one point went hitless for 25 at-bats. He eventually began to hit, then
the Yankees employed a "Rollins shift," playing three infielders on
the left side of second base. Yankee manager Ralph Houk claimed Rollins
had hurt the Yankees pulling the ball.
Rollins welcomed the shift.
The right-handed batter began to go the other way, hitting to right field.
He finished the season batting .307.
In 1967, Rollins was playing sporadically - he ended up starting only 88
games. He said, "I could pop off, but it wouldn't help the club. It never
It might have. The Twins were 50-38 in his starts, which is a .568 winning
percentage. Overall, the Twins had a .562 winning percentage in '67. The Red
Sox won the pennant on the last game of the season that year, finishing a game
ahead of the Twins.
The Sox record for the season? .568.