Their names are Rich Rollins and Bernie Allen, but in the locker room of the Minnesota Twins they are called Pie and Ty. True, Rollins is not yet a Pie Traynor at third base, nor does Allen hit as consistently as Ty Cobb did. Small matter. The Twins are off to a galloping start this season—galloping for the Twins, at least—largely because of their own Pie and Ty.
Rollins' name has been high on the list of top hitters all spring. Allen, hampered by an early-season case of the flu, started more slowly, but many of his hits have won ball games. In a recent three-game series against Detroit, Rollins hit a home run with two out in the ninth inning to win the first game: both Rollins and Allen hit home runs to win the second, and in the final game Allen hit a three-run homer to complete the sweep. The Minnesota Twins aren't meant to take three-game series from teams like Detroit, but Rollins and Allen seem to be too new to the majors to realize this.
Rollins and Allen are so new, in fact, that they aren't even supposed to be in the major leagues this season. The Twins had planned to let Billy Martin play second base. Third base was open to anybody—anybody except Rollins. In February, Calvin Griffith, owner of the Twins, gave reporters his view of coming events. "I hear Harmon Killebrew, John Goryl, George Banks and Bill Tuttle mentioned at third base," Griffith said. "Well, I've got a dark horse for you—Nestor Velazquez."
Both Pie and Ty might have been parceled out to Vancouver, a Minnesota farm club, had not Shortstop Zoilo Versalles come down with the mumps soon after the exhibition season began. Allen went in at shortstop and hit so well that he was shifted to second, his normal position. Rollins took Allen's place at short and he looked so good that when Versalles recovered, Rollins stayed in the lineup at third. Martin got an outright release and it was Nestor Velazquez who wound up discovering the charms of Vancouver in the springtime.
May 20, 1962
Red, red and red
Rich Rollins is 24, a short, solidly built young man with particularly stocky legs. ("He'll never make the majors," predicted a longtime TV broadcaster this spring. "His legs are too heavy.")Rollins has red hair, red eyebrows and, he says, a red temper, although he thinks he has it mastered. He wears glasses when he plays; they transform his appearance from Jack Armstrong into something surprisingly like the class grind.
As a boy in Cleveland, Rollins used to hawk popcorn in Municipal Stadium. When the game was over, he'd wait for a glimpse of Ken Keltner or Lou Boudreau. "I wasn't an autograph hound," he says. "I just liked to watch them."
After graduating from Kent University in 1960, Rollins signed up with the Twins (then the Washington Senators) for a modest bonus. His blackest moment came in that first season in the Carolina League. He was on first base when the hit-and-run sign was flashed. He took off for second, heard the crack of the bat and saw the shortstop move over to cover the bag. Rollins slid, then figured the shortstop had been faking and assumed the ball had gone through for a hit. He got up, dashed for third and slid in again. Only then did he find out that the batter had popped out to first.
Playing at Charlotte last June, Rollins got a call to join the Twins. "I flew into Chicago before a night game," he says. "Cookie Lavagetto was managing then and he asked me how I felt. I was really whipped, but I said I was fine."
Rollins started the game. "Boy, was I scared," he says. "I didn't know how to act. I remember thinking during infield practice, 'Gee, these guys don't miss.' I just wasn't ready for the majors."
He spent most of the season on the bench, then played in the Florida Instructional League last winter. "I wasn't 'not so good,' " he says. "I was plain awful." And so, when he joined the Twins in spring training. Rollins was rated low. "I knew it," he admits. "I was completely relaxed. And I think that spending part of last year in the majors broke the ice. In spring training Jim Lemon gave me a few hitting tips, and here I am."
Bernie Allen signed with the Twins for a $50,000 bonus after he, was graduated from Purdue, where for three years he was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Allen has a merry, innocent-looking face that makes him appear even younger than 23. He is lean, almost frail, and it seems incredible that he could have survived the assaults of 250-pound linemen.
"I didn't like football," Allen says. "But Purdue offered me a scholarship and it was a way to get a college education. I'm one of six kids. To tell the truth I didn't think I'd make the team.
Allen was sent to Charlotte last summer, did well and played winter ball. Then he took his wife Sharon to spring training.
"A lot of guys razzed me, of course," he says with a laugh. "They called me bowlegged—I am a bit bowlegged—and kidded me about running slowly. But I was used to that. The opposing linemen used to do the same thing. It never bothers me."
Pie and Ty have made a happy fellow out of Sam Mele, the man with the often unhappy job of managing the Twins. Mele, a gray-haired, grim-faced man of 39, speaks of his two young infielders in tones of a man who has just struck oil. "They're smart boys," he says. "They think all the time." Mele is being careful not to let anything upset them physically or mentally. When Allen got the flu on a road trip, Mele waited in Allen's room until the doctor arrived. Several times he has given the boys the hit sign on the 3-0 pitch, an honor usually reserved for the Mantles and Musials of baseball. "You should have seen their eyes pop," Mele says.
It might be pointed out that, as good as Rollins and Allen look, they do have their limitations. Neither has great speed or a very strong throwing arm. Allen appears to be short on range at second base, while Rollins at third has a weakness on slow-hit balls to his left. But Rollins can make the diving stop toward the line, and Allen is sure-handed and quick on the double play.
Rollins, who bats right-handed, and Allen, who bats left, both have fair power and the ability to hit to the opposite field. Allen can hit a baseball startlingly far for someone with his frail build. "It was when I saw Bernie start pulling the ball that I knew he was ready," says Sam Mele. "If you can't pull the ball, the defense gangs up on you."
Perhaps the boys' greatest asset, however, is their confidence. When Allen was asked recently if he was worried that the pitchers, once they had all seen him, might detect some batting weakness, he replied: "Sure, the pitchers will learn something about me, but remember, I'll learn something about them, too."
Even if Rollins and Allen continue to sparkle, the Twins will have trouble finishing in the first division. The pitching staff is weak and the bench is even weaker. But don't bother telling Pie and Ty about that. They won't even listen.