October 17, 1908|
Penacook, New Hampshire
|Died: July 8, 1969
Gilford, New Hampshire
|June 29, 1931, for the New York Yankees|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 27, 1942, for the New York Yankees|
|Runs batted in||497|
|Career highlights and awards|
Robert Abial "Red" Rolfe (October 17, 1908 – July 8, 1969) was an American third baseman, manager and front-office executive in Major League Baseball. The native of Penacook, New Hampshire, Rolfe, a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, also was an Ivy Leaguer: a graduate, then long-time athletic director of Dartmouth College, and (from 1943–46) baseball and basketball coach at Yale University.
Key member of Yankees' 1930s dynasty
During his playing career, Rolfe was the starting third baseman on the New York Yankees of the late 1930s. The "Bronx Bombers" of Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing won American League pennants from 1936–39 and took all four World Series in which they appeared, winning 16 games and losing only three in Fall Classic play over that span. Rolfe played 10 major league seasons, all with New York, batting .289 in 1,175 games. His finest season came in 1939, when he amassed 213 hits, 139 runs scored, and 46 doubles while hitting .329 with 14 home runs and 80 runs batted in. He retired following the 1942 season.
College and MLB coach
After his four-year coaching stint at Yale, Rolfe coached the Toronto Huskies of the BAA in 1946–1947 and returned to the Yankees as a coach. After the 1947 season, Rolfe joined the Detroit Tigers as director of their farm system. But he returned to the field after only one season, when he succeeded Steve O'Neill as Tiger manager after the 1948 campaign.
Manager of Detroit Tigers
In 1949, Rolfe's first season as manager, the Tigers improved by nine games and returned to the first division. Then, in 1950, they nearly upset the Yankees, winning 95 games and finishing second, three games behind. A fluke botched double play was the team's undoing. Late in September at Cleveland, the Indians had the bases loaded in the tenth inning with one out and the score tied. Visibility was poor because smoke from Canadian forest fires was blowing across Lake Erie. On an apparent 3-2-3 double-play grounder to first base, Detroit catcher Aaron Robinson thought he simply needed to touch home plate for a force play to retire the Indians baserunner charging in from third. But in the smoky conditions Robinson had not seen that a putout had already been made at first base, necessitating that the catcher tag the runner, not the plate, to record an out. Robinson mistakenly tagged the plate, the run counted and Cleveland won the game. It was the turning point in the pennant race, for the postwar Tigers, and for Rolfe's managerial career.
Beset by an aging starting rotation, the Tigers faltered in 1951, slipping to 73 wins and finishing fifth, 25 games behind New York. Then Detroit completely unraveled in 1952, winning only 23 of 72 games under Rolfe. On July 5, he was fired and replaced by one of his pitchers, Fred Hutchinson. The 1952 club won only 50 games, losing 104 – the first time ever that the Tigers lost 100 or more games.
Dartmouth athletic director
Rolfe then returned to Dartmouth as the athletic director of his alma mater from 1954 to 1967. The college's baseball diamond is named in his honor. Rolfe died in Gilford, New Hampshire, in 1969 at age 60 of chronic kidney disease.
- List of Major League Baseball annual runs scored leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual doubles leaders
- List of Major League Baseball annual triples leaders
- List of Major League Baseball players who spent their entire career with one franchise