Sunday, December 28, 2008

#90 Rich Rollins

Rich Rollins by you.
I wonder if the Twins led the major leagues in bespectacled players in 1964. So far I've covered Zoilo Versalles and Don Mincher, and I would go so far as to say that Rich Rollins' horn-rimmed frames put him in the lead for most fashionable four-eyed Twins player. Thanks largely to his glasses, Rich also bears a strong resemblance to actor Jack Coleman, who plays Noah Bennet on the TV series "Heroes". But I digress.

Coming from Mount Pleasant, PA, "Red" Rollins (so nicknamed for his brightly colored hair, which is hidden by his hat in the above photo) matriculated from Kent State University and signed with the Senators in 1960. He was something of a phenom, hitting .341 in his first pro season and debuting with the just-relocated Twins late the following year. He earned the full-time third base job in 1962 and led Minnesota in hitting and on-base percentage with marks of .298 and .374. He also drove in 96 runs and scored another 96 for a club that finished just five games back of the Yankees. The young man's instant success earned the respect of his peers, who voted him into both All-Star Games that summer with the highest vote total of any American League player!

Despite an offseason workout regimen that was ahead of its time, Rich went into his sophomore spring training feeling sluggish. Early in the season, he suffered a broken jaw, which led to a four-day hospital stay, some weight loss, and an 0-for-25 stretch. Remarkably, he recovered to lead his team in batting once more at .307 and matched his previous year's totals of 23 doubles and 16 home runs.

For some reason, Rollins' performance slipped after reaching such great heights in his first two seasons. He hit .270 in 1964, though he set career highs with 25 doubles and a league-leading 10 triples. In Minnesota's pennant-winning 1965 campaign, he fell to .249 with 5 homers and 32 RBI. He appeared in three games in the World Series, going 0-for-2 with a walk. Rich stuck around with the Twins for three more years as a part-timer, continuing to hit in the .240 range. He joined the woebegone Seattle Pilots for 58 games in 1969 before being shut down with a knee injury. After a similarly short 1970 season that was split between Milwaukee and Cleveland, the one-time rookie star was finished at 32. He hit .269 for his career, though his last six seasons came in below that mark.

In the Life After Baseball department, Rich later worked in the front office of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, at one point serving as the public relations director for both the Cavs and the Richfield Coliseum that they called home.

Fun fact: Rich successfully fielded a ground ball by Rick Reichardt of the Angels and threw him out at first base to close out the first win in the history of the Seattle Pilots.
Rich Rollins (back) by you.

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