“We are the team to beat.” With those six simple words, Jimmy Rollins gave the Philadelphia Phillies the swagger to seize the NL East in 2007, the first in a run of five straight division titles that included a world championship in ‘08. J-Roll was an undisputed leader inside the clubhouse.
Of course, it helped that Rollins went out and had himself a literal MVP season on the diamond in ’07. Those words might fall a little flat in 2014 coming from a 35-year-old shortstop who just posted the least productive season of his Major League career since becoming an everyday player.
Then again, they might not if he was the type of player who did things “the right way.”
A veteran of 14 big-league seasons, Rollins’ experience alone could be a valuable asset to the Phillies, particularly the younger players (there’s one or two I think). As the longest tenured athlete in the city of Philadelphia, he’s been through it all, from collecting championships and accolades to enduring losing and controversies.
Rollins has a history though. The three-time All Star has been benched in the past for his perceived lack of effort and issues with punctuality. He’s not a lead-by-example guy like, say, Chase Utley, who by all accounts is constantly working out and watching film, always striving to maintain an edge.
That’s not Jimmy. It never was, yet he was perfectly capable of leading this team before. Now all of a sudden the Phillies want him to lead or leave, as Buster Olney writes for ESPN.com.
The question is when did he stop being a leader?
One answer would be the moment Ryne Sandberg took over as manager last August. The new skipper instantly employed a more disciplined approach than Charlie Manuel, who at times seemed to act as more of a grandfatherly figure than a boss.
It’s not hard to imagine how Sandberg’s demands would conflict with Rollins’ laid-back attitude. Sure enough, J-Roll already has been benched for three games this spring. Meanwhile, his manager is ranting and raving about backup Freddy Galvis’ “energy” and “positive influence.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt the Phillies have got roughly the same production from Galvis here in the early-goings. Rollins is 2-for-22 with five walks and a home run this spring. Galvis is 4-for-34 with three walks, a triple and a home run.
Would Sandberg have benched Rollins if he was producing at the plate? Possible, but perhaps unlikely.
The bottom line is Rollins stopped being a leader right around the time his offense fell off of a cliff. The truth is he could get away with marching to the beat of his own drum because he was getting the job done where and when it counted, on the field and in clutch situations.
Those days appear to be gone now though, so let’s call this drama what it is. The real issue here has little to do with Rollins’ leadership, work ethic or attitude. This is about Rollins being a shell of the player he once was.
The problem is the Phillies are stuck with No. 11 for the time being. The organization can talk trade all they want, but Rollins has the final say on such matters, and he doesn’t sound inclined to walk. I suppose Sandberg could make the situation so untenable for Jimmy that he gives up, but that doesn’t exactly send a great message, either.
The play here might be to patch things up with Rollins, who is largely guilty of signing the contract the Phillies gave him, and try to survive the season ahead. The idea that he needs to set an example in the clubhouse if he can’t set one in the batter’s box is not who Rollins is. Feuding over it is only a disservice to everybody.