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2014 Spring Issue 8 (June 6, 2014)

Leading Rotblatt Historian Talks with ‘tonian

June 10, 2014
By Perrin Stein

“It is certainly fair to say the Rotblatt means something special to many of the guys who play it, more than just a chance to hit a softball,” wrote Senior Commissioner and League History Don Rawitsch ’72 in his A Definitive History of the Marvin J. Rotblatt Memorial Softball League.

According to Rawitsch’s history, at its beginning in 1964, Rotblatt was an intermural softball league exclusively for upper-class males. It began as a rival to the Continental League, which consisted of four teams that were formed via a closed draft.

Eric Carlson, Bob Greenberg, Rick Chapp, and Bob Moore ’66 did not like the exclusivity of the Continental League, so they created the Marvin J. Rotblatt League in honor of a “ball player who simply never made it,” according to Rawitsch’s history.

Rotblatt was characterized by its fierce organization and competition, as well as by its publication of widely read weekly statistics on the players.

Notably, Marvin Rotblatt visited campus on several occasions, and “as everyone agreed afterward, he was too perfect to be true,” wrote Rawitsch.

In 1967, Carleton celebrated its centennial, and the Rotblatt League had a 100-inning game in honor of the occasion. This is where today’s one-day long Rotblatt tradition comes from. The Rotblatt League continued until the mid-1980s at which point Rotblatt became just the game, which has the same number of innings as Carleton’s age in years.

With Rotblatt tomorrow, Rawitsch offered to answer some questions about his memories of the game.

PS: Why did you decide to write a history of Rotblatt?

DR: I was a history major at Carleton who had studied history but who had never researched or written any original history. As one of the Czars of the Rotblatt League, I became curious about how the thing got started.  It was spring term of my senior year, and I was taking a light course load, so I decided to pursue my own history project.  I am especially interested in personal history, what happens to everyday people, and Rotblatt seemed to be that kind of story.  I had to research secondary sources, such as past issue of The Carletonian, but also primary sources, such as letters from the early Rotblatt players. It turned into a 15-page research report, and I’m glad to have created an historical record of this unique Carleton institution.

PS: What makes Rotblatt an important Carleton tradition?

DR: The Rotblatt Memorial Softball League was founded in 1964 and probably lasted in a serious form for 10-12 years. It was significant for several reasons. Carleton students are known for their inventiveness, and Rotblatt is quite the invention with its history, lore, records, and combination of competitiveness and fun. The students thought this all up and maintained it, not the College. It involved 15-20 percent of the student body in any given year, though in its prime it was male only. It was a wholesome way for students to “let off steam” from the rigors of their studies. The tale of how the students found former University of Illinois and Chicago White Sox pitcher Marvin Rotblatt in Chicago and brought him to Northfield, and of how graciously and hilariously he responded to the honor, is a great human interest story.

PS: What traditions did Carleton have for Rotblatt when you were a student here?

DR: It was played during spring term on fields around campus. It was all male because this was before the advent of serious women’s softball, which has blossomed in the years since. It was open to sophomores through seniors and run by a group of volunteer commissioners, or Czars, who were typically two seniors and one junior. There were appointed team captains who then held a draft from all other student Rotblatt registrants to form the teams. The teams were divided into two divisions. The division leading teams at the end of the season held play-offs and a World Series. Volunteer scorers recorded each game. Computer geeks kept stats on all games and posted printouts weekly showing each player’s accomplishments. A year-end narrative and stats report compiled by the Czars documented each season’s activity. There was a season ending marathon game starting in 1966 with 100 innings in honor of the College’s Centennial, and one inning was added to this game in each subsequent year. At the end of the season, there was an Awards Banquet.

PS: What is your favorite memory of Rotblatt?

DR: In writing my history in the League’s ninth year, I sent out a letter to 70 former players including the founders. About a dozen of them sent letters of reply that arrived in my hands during a period of two to three weeks.  Each day, I would take the letters received and go to the library to read them. They were hilarious, and I had tears in my eyes trying to stifle my laughter without alarming the librarians.

PS: What is your biggest regret regarding Rotblatt?

DR: I never met Marvin Rotblatt myself, though I know he received a copy of the History.  Too late, I saw notice when he died in

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