#CardCorner: 1963 Topps Rich Rollins
Autographed Baseball Card
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By the mid-1970s, such glasses were so out of fashion as to be mocked (as if we made any better fashion choices by that time), but Rollins and a few other players, including Steve Blass and Denny McLain, proudly wore that style of spectacle in posing for their cards. Blass and McLain sported the glasses only occasionally, and not while actually pitching, but Rollins wore the glasses on many of his Topps cards and while he actually played. In later years, he adopted glasses with very dark frames, which only accentuated the old-fashioned feel of his cards.
In addition to the glasses, Rollins sports a baby-faced quality on his 1963 Topps card. Completely clean shaven and with soft features, he looks younger than his actual age of 24, when this photograph was taken during the 1962 season. (Based on the road jersey that he is wearing, it’s likely that the photo was snapped at an American League road venue.) Without his cap and uniform name on his jersey, it might have been easy to mistake him for one of the Minnesota Twins ballboys. Rollins’ face and expression make him appear especially innocent, more like an intellectual college professor than a stereotypical rough-and-tumble ballplayer from the early 1960s.
In actuality, Rollins did possess high intelligence, along with a remarkable work ethic. A star second baseman at Kent State University, he teamed with another future major leaguer, Gene Michael, to form one of the best double play combinations in the land. As well as Rollins played for Kent State, he drew the attention of only one major league team: The old Washington Senators.
“I took a whole lot of criticism. I was small, I wore glasses, I was bowlegged, I couldn’t run good,” Rollins recalled in an interview for the web site, twinstrivia.com.
While Rollins lacked the pure athletic skills of other prospects, his intangibles clearly pushed him into the category of a prospect. One of Washington’s scouts, Floyd Baker, invited Rollins to a tryout at Griffith Stadium in June of 1960. It was there that Rollins impressed Baker with both his willingness to work and an exemplary attitude. On Baker’s strong recommendation, the Senators signed Rollins to his first professional contract.
Rollins believed that the Indians would retain him in some other capacity, but the front office informed him that the club had no openings at the time. “I am not surprised to be released [as a player],” Rollins told the Sporting News, “but I am disappointed because I thought I would be offered another job in the organization.”
Two years later, Rollins did return to the Indians’ organization as an instructor and scout. Later on, he became the Indians’ director of group sales before switching sports, taking a job with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers as part of their ticket sales department. Retiring in 1993, Rollins continues to live in Akron, Ohio, not far from where he grew up.
With his awkward glasses and soft features in full evidence on his Topps card, Rollins looked like anything but the typical ballplayer of 1960s vintage. He lacked the natural athletic skills of the players who became stars. But his smarts, his work ethic and his easygoing personality allowed him to forge out a 10-year career in the big leagues, along with a successful second career in the front offices of two professional sports teams.
Rollins’ success should teach us to never underestimate the staying power of the kid with the big glasses.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame
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