Classic Yankees: Red Rolfe

Before Graig Nettles, before A-Rod, the general consensus was that Robert Abial “Red” Rolfe was the best Yankees third baseman ever.

Rolfe, a lefty hitter who wore #2, came up to the Yanks in 1931 for one game at shortstop. He didn’t get to bat. He would not return to the Yanks until 1934.

He played some SS in 1934 and 1935, but put in only 64 games at that position. He played 1084 games at 3B and none anywhere else.

His stay with the Yanks was relatively brief due to health issues. He had only seven full seasons as a Yankee, two more as a part-time player from 1934 to 1942.

In 1934, Rolfe hit .287-0-18, OPS+ 84.

He became a full-timer in 1935. Rolfe led off for most of his Yankees career. In 1935 he hit .300-5-67, OPS+ 102.

1936 began a string of four consecutive World Series titles for the Yanks. Rolfe hit .319-10-70, and led the majors with 15 triples. His OPS+ was 120. He went 10 for 25 (.400) in the series, with four RBI.

In 1937 Rolfe led the majors in plate appearances. His OPS+ dropped to an 86. Despite that, he was named to the All-Star team for the first of what would be four consecutive times. He hit .276-4-62, and walked 90 times. He hit 6 for 20 (.300) in the WS, with 2 doubles, a triple, and an RBI.

In 1938, Rolfe finished 24th in the MVP voting and made his second All-Star Team. He hit .311-10-80, and stole 13 bases in 14 attempts. His OPS+ was a 106. He was 3 for 18 in the WS with an RBI.

The 1939 Yankee team is considered one of the greatest teams ever, and imagine if Gehrig were healthy instead of afflicted with the disease that would force his retirement that year. Rolfe had a huge year, leading the majors in runs scored and hits, and the A.L. in doubles. He hit .329-14-80 and had an OPS+ of 130. An All-Star for the third time, Rolfe finished 27th in the MVP balloting. 1939 marked the third and last season of his career in which Rolfe had at least ten triples for the season. Rolfe hit two for sixteen in the WS.

Rolfe wasn’t the same after 1939. 1940 was an off-year for many Yankees, Rolfe included. He did make his fourth and final All-Star team, but he slipped to .250-10-53, a 79 point plunge in the B.A. His OPS+ dropped from 130 to 78. He was having health issues at the age of 31.

1941 saw Rolfe get his fifth and last WS championship ring. He hit .264-8-42 in his last full-time season, OPS+ 85. He went six for twenty in the Series.

1942 marked Rolfe’s last year, and he became a part-time player. He hit just .219-8-25, OPS+ 80. In the WS, which the Yanks lost to the Cardinals, Rolfe hit 6 for 17.

He turned 34 just after the Series, but health concerns (stomach ulcers) ended Rolfe’s career.

Rolfe hit .289 with an OPS+ of 99. Not a HR hitter, he hit 69 for his career. His 162 g. average would be .289-10-69. In WS play, he hit .284-0-6 in 28 games.

From 1943 to 1946, Rolfe was the baseball and basketball coach for Yale. He coached for the Yanks in 1947, and then became a farm director for the Tigers.

Rolfe managed the Detroit Tigers from 1949-1952. He finished fourth in 1949 with an 87-67 record, and then finished second behind the Yanks in 1950, going 95-59. In 1951 they slipped under .500 to 73-81 (fifth) then Rolfe was let go after starting 1952 a miserable 23-49 (they finished last). Rolfe was 278-256 in his managerial career.

A Dartmouth graduate, Rolfe was the athletic director of his alma mater from 1954-1967.

He was only 60 when he died in 1969 of chronic colitis.

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2 Responses to Classic Yankees: Red Rolfe

  1. vterranova1 says:

    For almost his entire career he batted second, mainly behind Frank Crosetti.
    Here are his splits from BBRef.

    Batting Order Positions
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    I Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+
    Batting 1st 17 15 79 69 15 18 6 2 0 5 0 0 9 7 .261 .346 .406 .752 28 0 0 1 0 0 .290 94
    Batting 2nd 1119 1113 5288 4726 923 1367 250 65 69 490 44 20 511 323 .289 .360 .413 .773 1954 14 10 41 0 0 0 .299 100
    Batting 3rd 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    Batting 4th 1 0 3 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .500 .667 .500 1.167 1 0 0 0 0 .500 206
    Batting 6th 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0 .000 -100
    Batting 7th 2 0 4 4 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .750 1.250 3 0 0 0 0 0 .500 220
    Batting 8th 5 0 4 3 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 .000 .250 .000 .250 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 -31
    Batting 9th 29 0 27 22 3 6 0 0 0 1 0 0 5 4 .273 .407 .273 .680 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333

  2. Mike Sommer says:

    Good catch. My fault. Considering that the Crow was a .245 career hitter, I think Rolfe should have led off, with the Crow hitting 8th!