Friday, Feb. 01 2013 8:48AM
‘A very, very good neighbor’
Former Major League pitcher reflects on playing career
By Toriano Porter
The upstairs room that contains memorabilia from Roland “Rollie” Sheldon’s Major League Baseball playing days is impressive.
Although the Lee’s Summit resident only spent five years in the big leagues, the memories – if not the artifacts – are beyond measure.
Commemorative baseballs and photographs with some of the most-renowned Yankees of all time drape the room as well as playing jerseys, dusted and polished trophies and bats Sheldon used in games when American League pitchers still used to bat for themselves – anything from his heyday one could think of – but it is the memories of Sheldon’s playing days that are his greatest treasures.
“We hit,” Sheldon said of his playing days. “I wasn’t much of a hitter, but I was a good bunter. I stayed in some games that were in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings because I could bunt.”
Born in Putnam, Conn., but reared in neighboring Woodstock – the farming town of Woodstock didn’t have a hospital – Sheldon has spent the last four decades-plus in Lee’s Summit. He moved here in 1966. Before that, after a tour in the Air Force and dabbling in two different sports at two different colleges, Sheldon pitched for the New York Yankees (1961–1962; 1964–1965), Kansas City Athletics (1965–1966) and Boston Red Sox (1966).
“After Boston I (had) arm troubles,” Sheldon, who has lived in the same home in Lee’s Summit since 1968, said. “I started in Triple-A in ‘67, ‘68, ‘69 and ’70 and didn’t get a (call-up).”
Mary Johnson, who lives close to Sheldon and his wife, Shirley, said the one-time big-league ballplayer is “a great neighbor.”
“He lives just around the corner from me,” Johnson said. “He’s just a very nice man. One example is there’s an older lady – she’s in her mid-80s – that lived on the same block as them and every Monday night they would go and get her. She’s at John Knox (Village) now. He would go and get her every Monday night and several of us joined them and we would all go for tacos. He keeps that little group going, which is a little neighborhood thing. But he’s that kind of a neighbor.”
Sheldon was honored in October when he joined a list of former athletes at Woodstock Academy that were honored as part of the high school’s athletic department’s first ever hall-of-fame induction. Sheldon, a 1954 graduate, was honored for being the school’s first professional athlete.
“It was great,” he said. “I had one of my classmates that became my presenter...this hall of fame was the first ever. First 1,000-point scorer, first pro athlete. It’s was No. 1 all the way around.”
Still sporting an American League Championship ring from the 1964 season – the Yankees lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games with Sheldon pitching in two of the contests – Sheldon auctioned his 1961 World Series championship ring and donated the proceeds to Lee’s Summit Christian Church near Tudor Rd. and Missouri 291, where he is a long-time member. Sheldon was a rookie in 1961 and sported an impressive 11-5 record that season, but didn’t pitch in the postseason.
“I always go back to 1961,” he said. “If I could turn that clock back to any time, I’d go back to 1961.”
After retiring from Major League Baseball, Sheldon settled in the claims department of All State Insurance in Lee’s Summit and worked there for 23 years before retiring 20 years ago. After leaving the workforce, Sheldon said he spent 15 years voluntarily mowing the lawn of his church.
“Pretty good size property,” Sheldon said. “About four or five acres to mow. That’s what I did. That was a hobby.”
That benevolence isn’t lost on Johnson, who said she has known Sheldon at least 25 years after their children graduated Lee’s Summit High School together in 1983.
“He’s a very kind gentleman,” she said. “Just a very, very good neighbor.”