The guy I picked up at the Minneapolis–St. Paul Airport in 1973 walked out of the gate and straight out of the proverbial central casting. Marv Rotblatt had already pulled an unlit cigar out of his jacket and, as soon as he shook my hand, started to tell a funny story about his flight from Chicago.
As czar of Rotblatt at Carleton for two years in the early 1970s, I had to shepherd Marv Rotblatt during his semi-annual trip to the school for the end-of-the-year banquet. “He just loved that he was a part of that,” says Rotblatt’s son. “He knew he was picked as sort of a joke, but he was good at making fun of himself. He always said, ‘The only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity.’ ”
There are several versions of the story on how Rotblatt got the honor, such as it was, of having his name become the byword of Carleton softball. The Marvin J. Rotblatt Memorial Softball League (which evolved into the annual 100-plus inning game it is today) was founded in 1964 by Eric Carlson ’66, Bob Greenberg ’66, Rick Chap ’66, and Bob Moore ’66. Rotblatt told his son the founders were looking for the most obscure major leaguer from their childhood years.
The students could have picked someone who was a jerk or boring or dumb, but luckily for Carleton lore, Rotblatt was none of those things. After his brief career as a relief pitcher with the Chicago White Sox in the late 1940s and early ’50s, Rotblatt worked as an insurance salesman in Chicago. During the evening I spent with him after our silly awards banquet in Goodhue dining hall, he told story after story, and I was transfixed.
Like other nongrads and campus legends—Larry Gould, Dacie Moses, Friedrich Schiller, and William Carleton himself—Marv Rotblatt became an endeared and integral part of the Carleton experience. We at Carleton revel in our contrariness, and to have a Rotblatt at our core is about as contrary as it comes.
“I can’t tell you how much he loved that these college kids held him in their hearts,” says his son. “He got the joke.”
To paraphrase Voltaire’s famous remark about God: If Marv Rotblatt didn’t exist, Carleton folks would have had to invent him. By dumb luck, they didn’t have to.
Web Extra: Read Rotblatt’s New York Times obituary. See “A Definitive History of the Marvin J. Rotblatt Memorial Softball League,” by Don Rawitsch ’72, and view a video of early games and interviews with Rotblatt.