clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

So let's talk about Jimmy Rollins' Q&A with Ken Rosenthal

The once and forever Phillies super star had a refreshingly candid interview with FOX Sports that allowed him to finally speak his mind.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Look how graphically unnatural J-Roll looks in a Dodgers uniform. Rollins' instincts have always been to torture and destroy the Dodgers, not assimilate with and help them, so this must be in every way a struggle for him as he fights his every bodily instinct.

But it's a new challenge for Rollins, who left the the Phillies via trade this offseason after a long career of thrilling fans while being constantly scrutinized by them.

This was best exemplified in August 2012, when the Phillies were playing the Marlins. Rollins smacked a grounder to Jose Reyes at short and as Reyes pedaled backward to field it, he gave Rollins some extra time to potentially reach first safely. But Rollins was jogging, and by the time the ball reached the bag, he had barely come into view on the TV broadcast.

The next day, we got this.

97.5 The Fanatic took it upon themselves to blast the Phillies' shortstop with a billboard. And why not! Jimmy Rollins should give 100% on every play! Chase Utley would never do this! Chase Utley would never make us put him on a billboard! Well, once. But that helped stimulate local economy! And Chase gave 100% on that billboard, I'll bet!

But here's the thing: Running out grounders in the way that 97.5 was so concerned doesn't really matter, as The Good Phight's taco pal outlined quite extensively at the time:

"News flash: Running out grounders has virtually no impact on the success of a baseball team. This is not entirely a matter of opinion. It's also a matter of fact, demonstrable through the application of simple math. Over a 162-game season, Jimmy Rollins will hit about 220 grounders. That's his career average per 162. These grounders can be divided up into five different categories: (1) Solidly at infielders or the pitcher. (2) Solidly between infielders. (3) Solidly into the left field corner. (4) Solidly into the right field corner. (5) Miscellaneous choppers, dribblers, rollers, etc.

Most of the grounders will fall into categories 1, 2, or 3. And I'm going to posit that at the major league level, at least 98% of the time, it doesn't make any difference whether you run these balls out or not. 98% of the balls in category 1 are going to be outs even if you bust it out of the box. 98% of the balls in category 2 are going to be singles even if you jog out of the box. 98% of the balls in category 3 are going to be doubles even if you jog out of the box. Whether you run only matters if you're in categories 4 or 5.

Does anyone genuinely disagree with anything in that last paragraph? If not, then we're on the same page. Can anyone think of an instance where Rollins failed to run out a grounder in categories 4 or 5 (because I can't)?"

I don't know if this is the case in every city - it seems to be the case moreso in the northeast - but there's this weird, dense layer of Philadelphia that proudly remains as clueless and bitter as the stereotype born decades ago dictates, and another secondary layer that pretends that the first layer isn't completely wrong-headed and takes advantage of that to get them to call into radio shows and comment on web sites. This creates a community of swirling ignorance, all feeding into each other, and gleefully hurling needless overkill at any voice that attempts to say, "Hey, maybe think for a second?"

If the Phillies' philosophy at the time was Charlie Manuel's "Hustle and be on time" - which it was - then Rollins was breaking that because anyone can see that he was not hustling on that]]e play. Manuel was the leader, and that was his rule, and while Rollins could disagree with it, openly breaking it could be discerned as disrespectful. So Manuel talked to him, and Rollins was in the lineup the next night, and the team moved on - and Rollins' lack of hustle suddenly evaporated when he stole two bases in one inning against the Brewers.

But for some of the media and selective portions of the fans, it wasn't over. And it would never be over, because some people prefer to hunch over and wait for certain players to do something out of the ordinary, then blast them relentlessly for it as if they are following some city-wide code of honor that may or may not have to do with the color of skin.

There were other "incidents" like this before and after 2012, where Rollins' demeanor didn't match what the team or some fans wanted to see, but if his personality was so detrimental (like in 2008 when Manuel benched Rollins for not running out a pop-up that dropped), then the Phillies' five straight division championships with Rollins starting at shortstop didn't seem to indicate it.  The Phillies were old school and Rollins was cutting class, but they found a way to make it work. Just like they did when Cliff Lee didn't want to run at all.

The billboard is just one anecdote you can pull from an archive of people's distaste for Jimmy Rollins, a player who was a runner-up for Rookie of the Year, played with the confidence and brashness a Phillies player didn't deserve at the time, won an MVP, won a World Series, and year after year provided the money quote that got everyone all riled up for the start of Phillies baseball.

It's this dynamic between the city of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and its defining super star of a generation, on which Rollins was commenting in a recent interview with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

"Hustling? Hit the ball to second base, 70 percent is what I gave. When I hit it to the left side, I can't really see, so I usually run a little run harder, because I don't know what's going on. But when it's in front of me, that's how it was.

That gets back to the higher standards. No one goes hard all the time. But with a reputation, once you get that, if you're not going 100 percent, then you're never hustling. That's OK. It kept me on the field. But if I had an opportunity to score a run, I scored that run. If I had an opportunity for a hit, or to take an extra base, those are the things I did. That's where hustle counts."

Rollins went on to discuss multiple topics of his time in Philadelphia - making a point to say that he of course loved his time with the team, found the pressure "enjoyable," and that it helped develop him into the player he is. But he also spoke with a freedom that he clearly didn't feel he had while wearing red pinstripes, a situation partially brought about by the type of people who would spend money on a billboard to chastise a local player for not adhering to their philosophies.

The Manuel Era Phillies excelled because they were good players who were put in an environment in which they could relax and thrive. But there was an underlying structure somewhere in there, and Rollins' laid back, west coast style, which I for one adored, did not always fit into it. John Vukovich didn't like Rollins' attitude when he first came up (they grew closer as time went on), Charlie Manuel didn't always appreciate it (they grew close as time went on), and during the 2014 preseason, Ryne Sandberg attempted to make a statement by benching Rollins after a lack of hustle. In a spring training game.

"The first hint of any issue came after Wednesday's game in Sarasota, Fla., when Sandberg offered no explanation for Rollins' three-day benching. Unprompted, Sandberg praised Freddy Galvis' "energy and his positive influence." When asked about Rollins in that regard, Sandberg said, "No comment."

--via Matt Gelb

Not everyone is going to fit into the idea of what an organization or a city thinks is right, but that doesn't mean they can't contribute to it, improve it, and leave it a better organization or city than it was upon their arrival. As Rollins puts it to Rosenthal:

"But if someone buds, let 'em bud. Instead of trying to keep 'em within this framework. Just let 'em be who they are at that moment.

The general area, the city [of Philadelphia] being blue-collar, it's not conducive for a superstar. You can be good, but you've got to be blue-collar along the way, keep your mouth shut, just go and work. Where obviously, this is LA. It's almost like it's OK to be more flamboyant. You kind of appreciate that the more you're out there. Because LA loves a star."

That would be a nice change to see in our local culture; a young athlete arriving with the inspiring arrogance of a young stud, who is given the leeway to grow and improve, but is permitted to be himself without a high-and-mighty columnist putting him on blast and a chorus of diseased commenters chanting in agreement. Yasiel Puig would probably tell you you don't have to be in Philadelphia to want that.

It's 2015, now. Jimmy Rollins is a Dodger and the Phillies' short term outlook is not good. But we're at a point when people are being told to come to Philadelphia, and genuinely want to be in Philadelphia, and it would be very cool if one of those people could be the next Jimmy Rollins.