If only that had been the only ticket needed for winning. Impressive as home runs are, they are really but one ingredient for success. Look at the 1964 Twins. Those early power bats were in full bloom. You couldn't find a better exhibit of that early Twins power. And how did we do? We finished in a tie for sixth place in the ten-team league. We tied for sixth with Cleveland. The California Angels, a team which on paper looked noticeably inferior and dull, finished higher than us.
Bill James would eventually take the game apart and instruct us on how the myriad elements add up to competitiveness. But in the '60s us Twins fans with our admitted naivete were excited as heck seeing the ball go out of the park.
Rich Rollins was part of that. Let's go back to June 9 of 1966. Catfish Hunter is on the mound for the Kansas City Athletics. He'd get the hook that day. That's because a procession of Twins including Rollins hit home runs. The inning is the seventh. Rollins was among five Twins hitting home runs in that inning. Can't you just hear the Met Stadium crowd displaying that wild crescendo of cheers? Rollins was joined in the homer parade by Harmon Killebrew, Don Mincher, Tony Oliva and Zoilo Versalles. Those five iconic Twins produced a major league record for home runs in an inning. Hunter gave up two of the blasts as did reliever Paul Lindblad. John Wyatt gave up the other.
You'll remember that 1966 was the season following our pennant-winning year of '65. We didn't have the kind of chemistry in '66 as we displayed in '65. It was the Baltimore Orioles with triple crown winner Frank Robinson winning the American League pennant in '66. The Twins were still most capable of entertaining with power.
Flowering with the early Twins
Rollins' best years were in the early 1960s. If you collected baseball cards, you read that Rollins "beat the sophomore jinx" in 1963. Fans of a certain age (mine) remember Rollins as our first bona fide third baseman. He got the third base job coming out of spring training in 1962, the Twins' second season. He batted a sizzling .486 over the Twins' first ten games. He was an iron man, playing in 159 games.
Twins fans became enamored with our whole infield. We had Bernie Allen at second, the one-of-a-kind Vic Power at first and the flashy if erratic Zoilo Versalles at shortstop. Power was obtained so he could give stability with his well-known glove, handling throws that weren't always the most precise.
Power led the Twins in '62 as we actually gave the dynastic Yankees a run for their money. Rollins was a stalwart. The Pennsylvania native (Mount Pleasant) batted just shy of .300. He homered 16 times and drove in 96 runs. He was eighth in the voting for MVP. Those were the days of two all-star games, and Rollins started both.
He made an impression with his bat, not so much with his glove in '62, as he committed 28 errors. A mania built among Twins fans in June of that seminal summer. We realized the Twins had the ingredients to make a strong bid for the pennant. Two years earlier, all we had was the Minneapolis Millers out at Met Stadium. The Met was built to attract a major league team. Patience was required.
In June of '62, everything seemed to be coming up roses. Not only were we "in the bigs," we were a looming threat to the Yankees' primacy. The Twins swept the Chicago White Sox in a doubleheader at the Met in early June of '62. Minnesotans had a new dimension by which to enjoy spring. We were transfixed as we were dead-even with the Yankees. Rollins reached base six straight times in that doubleheader sweep. He was age 24.
A conscientious pro athlete
The 1960s were a time when ballplayers used spring training to "get in shape." How quaint. I guess they relaxed in the off-season. Rollins was ahead of his time, choosing to play handball and in general stay in quite good shape in the off-season.
Rollins had to deal with adversity early in his "sophomore" season, 1963. He suffered a broken jaw. He spent half a week in the hospital. His jaw got wired shut. He had to rely on frequent protein shakes. He slumped, languishing over about 25 at-bats, before his production took off like in '62. Indeed, he beat that "sophomore jinx."
Ralph Houk, manager of the Yankees, decided that a special "shift" was needed in the field to try to neutralize this hotshot Rollins fellow. Houk called for three infielders on the left side of second base. Rollins was unfazed. He adjusted and began to go to the opposite field, successfully, which explains how he finished the 1963 season with an even better bating average than in '62. He was a .300 hitter in '63 with a .307 mark.
Rollins' productivity fell off as the years went on. He was still good enough to join that famous power progression in that '66 game against Kansas City. But by '67 - worn down? - his playing time was limited. The Twins narrowly missed the pennant in '67.
Stint with the "Ball Four" team
In 1968, Rollins was left exposed to the expansion draft. He went to the Seattle Pilots. The Pilots, you'll probably remember, were the team giving the backdrop for most of Jim Bouton's book "Ball Four." I remember reading Ball Four and noting that Rollins is hardly mentioned. Rollins could breathe a sigh of relief over that. Bouton brutally evaluated people. I remember only one thing about Rollins from "Ball Four." Bouton called him "the listener" when it came to back-of-the-bus banter.
We could use the term "washed up" with Rollins in 1969. My research doesn't suggest any specific reason for his decline. So I'll assume that part of it was opposing pitchers getting Rollins figured out, pinpointing his weaknesses. Pictures of him from that time show him with very conspicuous glasses.
The Pilots lasted only one season, then they moved to Milwaukee. The Pilots have been like an orphan team. Neither Seattle nor Milwaukee wants to claim them.
Rollins was released by the Brewers in May of 1970. He got signed by the Cleveland Indians and stayed on the roster through season's end. Rollins then retired.
We can remember Rich Rollins as an original Twin: he was on our big league roster through much of that inaugural '61 season, but was little used off the bench.
His resume included playing college baseball at Kent State: 1958 to 1960. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Washington Senators prior to the start of the 1960 season. The Senators of course pulled up stakes in the nation's capital and came to the Great Plains outpost of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Twins got their name out of a sensitivity regarding Minneapolis vs. St. Paul parochialism. That also explains our original logo: two characters shaking hands across the river.
Rollins began his professional career with the "Wilson Tobs" of Class B. He tore the cover off the ball, therefore he got promoted to Charlotte. Then it was on to Syracuse for a mere three games, whereupon he moved on to the bigs and joined us out here on the "tundra" - Steve Cannon's term for our part of the country. Ever since, we have shown we're fully big league.
Rollins was a part of that initial climb when Minnesota achieved legitimacy in the big league firmament. I remember being at a game where he excelled. It might have been my first game. I remember that as the game progressed, the fans cheered steadily louder as Rollins' name was announced for a new at-bat. How lustily they cheered as the redhead Rollins brought his lumber to the plate. That infield of Rollins, Versalles, Allen and Power was like no other.
How we cherish the memories of those early Minnesota Twins. Imagine life in Minnesota before 1961, when all we had was the Minneapolis Millers (hardly better than nothing) and the U of M football Gophers.
Rollins today lives with his family in Akron, Ohio. I hope he's happy and healthy. I hope his baseball career led to affluence. Thanks for the memories.
I have the name Rich Rollins in a song I wrote called "The Ballad of Harmon Killebrew." I cover the whole infield. I invite you to listen by clicking on the YouTube link below. Thanks for visiting my site.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org