Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Countdown to 2017 Topps #07: Throw Down

It's been a long, cold, and wet winter, but I've fought the good fight. The winter blues may have thrown its best combination at me, but it hasn't put me down for the count. We're only 7 days away from the official baseball card season opener. Ding. Ding. Okay, back into the ring...

According to the back of his 1963 Topps card, Rollie Sheldon was "a basketball star in college." Topps didn't mention it, but he played at the University of Connecticut, where he averaged 13.5 points per game (or 10 ppg, depending on the source) during the 1959-60 season. The back of Roland's 1966 Topps card also mentions his basketball career, stating that he appeared in the NCAA tournament. Judging from the photo on the front of his '63 card, I would have thought Roland to be a boxer. Just look at that squared stance! If Roland throws one up and in and hits you, just take your base. You don't want none of that.

Speaking of free bases: Sheldon finished 5th in the league in hit batsman (7) during the 1965 season.

Roland's basketball past very well may have helped him break into the majors. Following high school, the righty served four years in the Air Force before enrolling in Texas A&M for a semester. He then transferred to UConn, sat out a year, and then played ball for the Huskies for a year. Later, when offered a contract with the Yankees, Sheldon filled in his age as "23" on the questionnaire. Harry Hesse, the scout that signed Sheldon, knew that the Yankees brass would not be interested in signing an older player of Roland's age with very little experience, so he altered the document to read "20" years old. After a 15-1 debut at class D, Yankees manager Ralph Houk invited the pitcher to spring training, where a reporter for the Hartford Courant recognized Sheldon from his days playing basketball. The reporter saw an age discrepancy in the Yankees media guide and pointed it out Yankees PR Director Bob Fishel. So instead of having a 21-year old first year player in need of more minor league experience, New York had themselves a 24 year-old pitcher whom they were willing to consider for a spot on their roster. Rollie would head north with the Yankees that 1961 season and pitched extremely well for someone with only one professional season under his belt. He also got to witness history being made that season.

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