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Rich Rollins

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.

Rich Rollins in fielding pose
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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 twinbill.

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 his career.

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 does."

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.


Where are the 1965 Minnesota Twins?

 


Rich Rollins was born in the seemingly soothing town of Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania in 1938.


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