Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Meet the Brewers #10: Rich Rollins

By the time that Brewers starter Lew Krausse was about to come to bat in the bottom of the third inning on Opening Day, 1970, he had allowed 4 earned runs on 3 hits and a walk in facing 13 batters. Dave Bristol watched Ted Kubiak earn a walk off Andy Messersmith and might have thought, "Geez, this might be my only chance to get a run today." If he did think that, he might have been right.

In any event, Bristol sent up pinch hitter Rich Rollins to try to help break through and score.  Rollins struck out.

1970 McDonald's Milwaukee Brewers
Rollins was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, but he was raised and went to school in Ohio. Fittingly for him, his entire career ended up being spent in the Midwest save for a one-year foray out to Sicks Stadium with the Seattle Pilots.  Rollins attended Kent State University and set a career record with a .383 batting average -- a mark later broken by Thurman Munson.

According to the interview at that link, Rollins did not have a scholarship for college but earned one playing as a freshman.  He even noted that he still has a letter that he sent to Munson to try to recruit him to Kent State.

After the 1960 college season ended and he graduated from college, he signed with the Washington Senators.  Rollins said that the Senators were his only opportunity to try out for a major league team. He joined a try out at old Griffin Park with (what he said were) fifty guys.  He was the only one to hit any homers in that expansive park, so the Senators signed him.  He told the Senators that he would not go to Rookie Ball and wanted to go to Class B baseball.  The Senators said no to that and sent him home.  By the time he got home, he had a message to call the Senators -- who told him that he would get to go to Wilson.

Jack McKeon was his manager, and McKeon gave him the opportunity to play. Rollins made the most of his opportunity -- slashing at .341/.421/.509 in 263 plate appearances.  According to Rollins, McKeon was told to send Rollins to Rookie league in Florida, but refused to do so -- and as you can see by those numbers, it paid off.

By mid-June in 1961, Rollins found himself in the major leagues -- in Minnesota -- for good.  He rarely played for the Twins that year. Rollins misremembered his call up slightly, in that he thought Early Wynn was the starter (Wynn pitched in relief and Don Larsen was the starter...the interviewer brought up that Larsen was the starter later; Rollins singled off Wynn for his first hit). The funniest part of the story, though, was that Rollins was known as Dick all throughout the minors. When he got to the majors, he was asked by Twins announcers "What do your parents call you at home?" His response was, "Rich" and so he was called Rich Rollins for the rest of his career.

Rollins sat on the bench too much in 1961 to still have rookie eligibility in 1962, but did the 24-year-old ever come on like a house of fire that year. Sixteen homers, 96 RBI, .298/.374/.428, eighth in the MVP race, and the starter in both All-Star games that year -- as the leading vote getter for the American League (in the last year that the players voted), backed up by some guy named Brooks Robinson.  He was voted the "Sophomore of the Year" by the Baseball Writers Association of America in what sounds like it was a regular award back in 1962.  He was even honored that year by the Cleveland Indians and by his hometown of Parma, Ohio at a game in Cleveland in July.

The rest of his career was a bit more up and down. He suffered a broken jaw in early 1963 (here's a fun photo of he and his wife sharing "dinner"), but it didn't seem to bother him too much that year. Yet, by the time 1965 rolled around, his numbered had dropped off badly.  While he hit .291/.356/.425 in his first four seasons in the majors, the rest of his career he hit just .242/.296/.347. Most of his problems came from knee problems that plagued him for many years starting in the mid-1960s.

1994 MGD 25th Anniversary Commemorative Set

After 1968 season in which the 30-year-old Rollins became a backup to Cesar Tovar, the Twins left him unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft. Indeed, the weekend after the Pilots selected him, he was supposed to have knee surgery (this is from his interview again).  He really did not know what was going to happen -- he was told that the surgery was off because the Twins had scheduled it.  In the interview, he said that really was the time that it hit home that baseball was a business.

The Pilots asked him to move to Seattle, and he sold his house and did it. He backed up Tommy Harper/played third when Harper moved over to second and pinch hit a bit, and he missed a bunch of time due to that same knee injury -- finally having the knee operation in mid-1969. Rollins said that the atmosphere was like a zoo -- no one knew who was going to play when.

He came with the team to Milwaukee for the 1970 season, but he really did not stay long. His recollection of this move was that the team bus was leaving Tempe to go to the airport in Phoenix, and the team had no idea whether it was going to Seattle or to Milwaukee. They only found out it was Milwaukee when they got to the airport.

He appeared in just 14 games and came to bat 29 times before the team decided that it needed another pitcher -- Skip Lockwood -- rather than Rollins on May 7, 1970.  When Lockwood was called up from Portland, Rollins was put on waivers and then was released. He signed for the Indians for the remainder of the 1970 season -- serving more as a coach than as a player, in his words -- and hung up his spikes at the end of that season.  Rollins blamed his knees for the early end to his career -- he'd lost a step, he was in pain, and he did not have the base to hit well any more.

After his career ended, he moved back to Cleveland. The Indians re-signed Rollins in 1972 -- to serve as a minor league instructor and scout. He did that for a couple of years. One day, though, he woke up in Reno, Nevada, thinking he was nuts for having 6 kids and seeing them twice all summer.  So, he called Gabe Paul in Cleveland and said he was done with traveling. The Indians moved him to the home office, then, and he worked for the Indians for the next 12 years.

Rollins mentioned that he gets more autograph requests now than he ever did before, but the addresses that are out in the "baseball address book" was wrong for him. But, the newer address books are right, apparently, and he will sign autographs.

Strangely, despite the fact that Rollins played just 14 games with Milwaukee, he has three cards (at least) showing him as a Brewer.  In addition to the two here, there is a 1970 Mike Andersen Postcard of him (actually, there are two for him -- one on the Indians) on the Brewers.  And, the 1970 MLB PhotoStamp of him might be a Brewers photo (though it probably isn't).

So, does anyone have a Mike Andersen Postcard of any of the Brewers from 1970?


  1. Always is strange to see him without those glasses he wore.

    1. No doubt -- in my mind's eye, he has those black-rimmed glasses on always, yet there we have two cards of him without them on.