Inside the Phillies: Phillies' Rollins has capacity to thrill and to infuriate

Jimmy Rollins has been popping up a lot this season. Here, in the sixth inning, he fouls out to first. On the other hand, in the third he hit his team-leading 16th homer. GREGORY SMITH / Associated Press
Jimmy Rollins has been popping up a lot this season. Here, in the sixth inning, he fouls out to first. On the other hand, in the third he hit his team-leading 16th homer. GREGORY SMITH / Associated Press
Posted: September 03, 2012

Jimmy Rollins may be the most fascinating athlete in Philadelphia history.

Consider Wilt Chamberlain's biographical claims and the long list of other superstars and characters to come through this town, and that really is saying something.

Just think about the week that passed.

Rollins was first in the news for welcoming a group of youngsters from Uganda to Citizens Bank Park after they had become the first team from Africa to win a game at the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Rollins had visited Uganda in January and donated his time, money, and equipment to the kids.

Regardless of what you think about the Phillies shortstop, that's a cool story and an indication of what kind of humanitarian Rollins has been since he played his first game here a dozen years ago.

Within a matter of days, Rollins had infuriated his manager and a good portion of Phillies fans because he did not run full speed on a pop-up in front of the mound. He was benched by Charlie Manuel two weeks after the manager had reprimanded him for failing to run out a ground ball in Miami.

Good Jimmy.

Bad Jimmy.

At this point it's obvious they are a package deal. and with Rollins signed for at least two more years the Phillies have to take the good with the bad.

You can argue that there has been more bad than good in 2012, and you would not be wrong.

Rollins told me before the season that he still thought he had the ability to win a second National League MVP award. He's obviously not going to finish in the top 100 in that category.

Right now, it appears as if this is going to be one of the worst healthy seasons of his career.

And yet, he is still among the best shortstops in baseball for two reasons: He can catch the ball and he can drive it.

Rollins' .980 fielding percentage is the fifth-best among major-league shortstops and by far the best in the National League. Yes, some shortstops have more range now, but few catch it and throw it better than Rollins.

Many shortstops hit the baseball more consistently than Rollins, whose bat has been infected by a pop-up plague for much of this season. Still, he is one of the few capable of hitting 20 home runs and stealing 30 bases.

It is not, however, extraordinary ability that makes Rollins so fascinating.

It is his personality and accomplishments combined with his capacity to exhilarate and infuriate with his actions on the field.

There have been plenty of amazing professional athletes in this town. Chamberlain. Iverson. McNabb. Erving. Barkley. Schmidt. Howard. The list goes on.

All of them thrilled the masses and many angered them, too.

But Rollins' resumé is different. I'm too young to remember Chamberlain's playing days in Philadelphia, but I know the main frustration with Iverson and McNabb was that they did not lead their teams to championships.

Rollins has done that. He has won an MVP, too. But he doesn't always hustle and he hasn't always been on time.

What's worse is that sometimes he seems defiant about it.

You cannot say that about Schmidt or Howard, two players who also won MVP awards and a championship. Schmidt often angered fans with his words, and Howard's shortcomings at the plate frustrate a lot of people. They have never come across as guys who were not trying.

"He's too good of a player not to do that," a member of the Phillies organization said after Rollins was benched Thursday.

He's too good a person, too. Anybody who has had an extended conversation with Rollins knows how passionate he is about life.

Rollins also loves the game of baseball. But he believes he is saving his legs and body when he doesn't run on a ball that should be either caught or a routine out.

Maybe he's right, but the impression he leaves is that he is cutting corners, and if he is cutting corners running to first base, it means he could also be cutting corners in preparing for games and the season. Whether that's true or not, Rollins invites the speculation.

The Yankees' Derek Jeter is baseball's 21st-century poster boy for being a leader, and you get the impression that he is not satisfied with the five World Series rings he already has. Rollins, by his actions, sometimes makes it seem as if one title was enough.

The Phillies shortstop has been one of the best players in the franchise's history, and one day he will be on the Wall of Fame out in center field at Citizens Bank Park.

A lot of people will still wonder if there could have been more.


Contact Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

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