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If Walks From Plate to the Dugout Led to the Majors, Rollin Would Be There

July 09, 1987|MARTY ESQUIVEL | Times Staff Writer

In seven years in the minor leagues, Rondal Rollin has taken 897 lonely walks from the batter's box to the dugout after a strikeout.

There's no sulking, no throwing his helmet and no choice words for the umpires. There are no excuses, just a simple stroll back to the bench.

In seven years in the minor leagues, Rollin has run around the bases 128 times with a home run, a lot less than his 897 strikeouts but not a reason to rejoice.

Rollin has yet to attain his goal of playing major league baseball. Now, all he wants to do is play baseball--anywhere. He'll play in Birmingham, Japan or with any team that will take him.

"Baseball isn't life to me," said Rollin. "It's just something to do."

So he's doing it. But seven years after signing his first professional contract, he's still a man nobody knows. Admittedly, his heart has been bruised after being traded, released, re-signed and even loaned out to another club.

He says he's been lied to and promised things that never saw the light of day. Age is not kind to a professional baseball player. But time has made Rollin, 27, a wiser man.

"I used to take things with a grain of salt. Now I take things with a very large grain of salt."

There are many sides to Rollin, but the one that sticks out most is a non-baseball trait that most baseball people familiar with Rollin speak of immediately.

"I'll tell you," said Art Clarkson, general manager of the the Birmingham Barons. "Billy Dee Williams has got nothing on this guy. He's too good to be true."

"He's one of the better ones as far as being a fine young man," said Dick Winsick, a scout with the Detroit Tigers who signed Rollin.

"He's an outstanding person," said Birmingham manager Rico Petrocelli.

The consensus says if personality could get him in the majors, Rollin would have been a all-star. But that's not the way baseball works.

Rollin's 897 strikeouts have come in 3,037 at bats. This season he's struck out 128 times in 317 at bats, which easily leads the Southern League.

Strikeouts are a problem that comes with the territory of being a power hitter. Rollin is tied for the league lead in home runs (22) and is sixth in runs batted in (65). When and if he makes contact, the strikeouts seem at least 400 feet away.

Winsick, who's eye for power landed Oakland the powerful tandem of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco when he was with the Athletics four years ago, says that Rollin's penchant for the strikeout is acceptable as long as he hits 30 home runs a year.

But Rollin has hit 30 home runs only once since 1985 with Birmingham.

But the power is there. Bob Heager, former baseball coach and now athletic director at Cal State Northridge, says Rollin could hit the ball farther then anyone else he coached. Those include former major leaguers Jason Thompson and Lyman Bostock.

"That's why he's still playing," says Heager.

And that's why he was signed in 1980. Although he was drafted by Detroit in the 12th round, Winsick still considered him one of the five best power hitters in the draft. At first, he decided he would stay on with Heager at Northridge after a paltry offer by the Tigers. But Detroit called back with a better offer and off he went to Lakeland, Fla., in the Gulf Coast League.

He spent two season in Lakeland and was promoted to Class AA Birmingham in 1982. After a so-so season, he was sent back to Lakeland in 1983.

There he began hitting with the power the Tigers expected of him. Midway through the season he was promoted to AAA Evansville, where he batted .291 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI in 62 games. The major leagues were within reach.

In 1984, things continued to go well. He was leading the American Assn. with 15 home runs and batting a respectable .261 when a manager called him to his office and told him his contract had been purchased by the Houston Astros.

"At first I was ecstatic," Rollin said. "The Astros needed a right-handed power hitter, so I thought I'd go to Tucson (AAA) for awhile and then be moved up."

Rollin got on the next plane to Arizona, one-way non-stop to the disappointment of a career. When he got to the stadium, the manager knew him about as well as he knew the head peanut vendor. He asked Rondal how he got there.

The face that could have lit the City of Los Angeles a day earlier was now etched with despair. The rest of the season was no better, he played sparingly in 42 games with only 108 at bats.

The man who had led the American Assn. in home runs on June 15 with 15 finished the season with only one for Tucson.

He re-signed with the Tigers in 1985 and had the best season of his career with 30 home runs and 108 RBI. And . . . well . . . 143 strikeouts.

In 1986, Rollin was still with Birmingham (affiliated with the Chicago White Sox). He was moved up to AAA Buffalo. In eight games, he batted .318 in 22 at bats. He was then released.

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