In 2007, Jimmy Rollins declared the Phillies “the team to beat” in the NL East. His words were designed to inspire his teammates and give them confidence. They were the words of a leader.
In 2008, he declared the Phils would win 100 games. It was his attempt to further push the envelope, to encourage his team to do even better. And, after their World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, the Phillies had won 103 games.
Jimmy Rollins has been a Philadelphia Phillie longer than anyone else on the roster. In his first year, 2000, the Phils lost 97 games and were the laughingstock of the National League. But he grew with the team as Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels and Jayson Werth joined the fold, forming a dynamic nucleus that has resulted in five straight NL East titles, two trips to the World Series and a parade down Broad Street in 2008.
All those things make it that much more disappointing that Rollins appears to be less of a team leader now, at 33 years old, then he was six years ago.
As the Phils have struggled out of the gate, 14-18 and 5 games out of first place in the NL East, there has been a cry from some writers and fans that the Phils need a vocal leader, someone to take charge in the clubhouse and speak up when the team appears unfocused and/or lackadaisical.
“You don’t have to whisper. It’s not the end of the world.”
- Jimmy Rollins, Wednesday night
Normally, I think that whole “vocal leader” stuff is overstated. A vocal leader isn’t going to turn the Phillies bullpen from the worst in MLB into an effective one. A vocal leader isn’t going to suddenly turn John Mayberry Jr. into a slugging machine, or get hitters to take a better approach at the plate.
Most of the time, it’s talent that wins ballgames. And right now, the Phils are missing two huge pieces of talent in Utley and Howard.
Still, Rollins’ comments after Charlie Manuel lit into the team after Wednesday night’s 10-6 loss are disturbing, especially for a 13-year veteran and the supposed “face of the franchise.”
When approached in hushed tones by a reporter, Rollins replied, “You don’t have to whisper. It’s not the end of the world.”
Now, I give Jimmy credit for speaking to the media in the first place, because a lot of players hide in the training room after a tough loss. Rollins has almost always been willing to talk to the press, even when things aren’t going well.
That being said, what kind of attitude is that?
“It’s not the end of the world?” Well, of course it isn’t the end of the world. No one is saying that it is. But that comment, to me, is akin to saying “Hey, it’s no big deal.”
Am I misreading it? Am I completely out to lunch?
I will admit that I am not in the locker room after games, and I don’t see everything that goes on inside the Phillies clubhouse. I won’t presume to know all and see all. So, I’ll let someone who is there all the time make those judgments for me, specifically, Charlie Manuel and his comments about Rollins’ play and “energy” earlier this month.
“What I liked is the fact we got what I call leadership play from Rollins,” Manuel said. “He had a good mindset [Tuesday]; he was having fun in the game. He put a lot in to helping us win the game. At the plate, how he went about it in the field, in the dugout. He was having fun playing.”
Later in the same story, when asked why Rollins can’t provide that kind of energy every night, Manuel said, “He might have to count his money every now and then.”
Read that again.
“HE MIGHT HAVE TO COUNT HIS MONEY EVERY NOW AND THEN.”
It was a funny one-liner from Manuel, one that got a laugh and a guffaw and went largely unnoticed. But within every joke, there’s some seriousness.
Rollins just received what will likely be his final big payday when he got his 3 year, $33 million contract this offseason. Has that caused Rollins to lose his edge? Does he simply feel there’s nothing more to prove?
It’s hard to argue with the numbers. In 32 games, Rollins is hitting .230/.279/.270 for a .549 OPS with no HRs and only 5 RBIs.
He’s not the only player with bad offensive numbers, but with so many key pieces missing, and a hefty new contract under his belt, it’s reasonable to focus a bit more attention on the shortstop’s lack of production.
You wonder about the mindset of Rollins when, after Wednesday night’s game he said, “There definitely needs to be a change in intensity. That comes with relaxing. When you win, everybody relaxes.”
Maybe I’m not the swiftest guy in the room, but what exactly is Jimmy saying here? Are the Phils playing with TOO much intensity that they need to relax? Or is he saying that you can become more intense by being more relaxed? Because the latter makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
“He might have to count his money every now and then.”
- Charlie Manuel, on Rollins earlier this month.
Jimmy was also asked if there is enough talent on the roster to have success. “There’s plenty enough talent to have it,” Rollins said. “You have to have the desire to do it.”
Does one of the most decorated players in franchise history, and the team’s best shortstop ever, still have that desire? Only Jimmy knows. What seems clear is that Charlie Manuel does not see that intensity, that drive, that edge, every night. Read Charlie’s words, not mine.
Perhaps it’s unfair to pick on Rollins. He’s only one player, and not everything is his fault, to be sure.
But ever since his first full year as a starter, the Phillies have gone as Rollins has gone. He’s the catalyst. As the leadoff hitter and senior member of the team, people look to Jimmy to lead. They take their cues from him.
And based on his comments on Wednesday night, it doesn’t seem like he’s taking this slow start all that seriously.
“There definitely needs to be a change in intensity. That comes with relaxing. When you win, everybody relaxes.”
- Jimmy Rollins, Wednesday night
For baseball players, the game of baseball is a business and a marathon. They don’t live with the same ups and downs that fans do. They don’t ride the rollercoaster, and that’s a good thing. They’d go nuts if they did.
No one is expecting Jimmy Rollins to shoot himself out of a cannon every night in order to fire up the troops.
But it’s not unreasonable to expect him, in the absence of Utley and Howard, to fill a little more of the void.
You wonder where the braggadicio of 2007 and 2008 went. You wonder where his hustle went. You wonder if the intensity is still there.
There’s still a long way to go in the 2012 season. An inspired Jimmy Rollins, the sparkplug that has lit this team for the better part of 13 years, is desperately needed now more than ever.
The Phillies need just a little bit of the old Jimmy Rollins back.
If he’s still around.