Finding common ground between Rollins and Sandberg

Posted: March 14, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Let's start with Dan Jennings. He is the new general manager of the Marlins, and he said something interesting the other day. This was in the Boston Globe, in a story about Marlins slugger and human trade rumor Giancarlo Stanton. In his first 4 years in the majors, the 24-year-old outfielder has developed a reputation for two things: pulverizing baseballs and spending time on the disabled list. In baseball circles, the latter is often treated as seriously as the former. See, in baseball circles, things are done a Certain Way. First and foremost, they are done without any admission of pain. Things have always been done this Certain Way, and while Stanton's youth and imposing physique have helped deter the dreaded label of "soft," the fact that he played in only 123 games in 2012 and 116 in 2013 has, at the very least, raised some red flags among those who are paid to raise them.

Anyway, back to Jennings.

"Sometimes," the GM said to the Globe, "and I don't want this to come out the wrong way, you don't need to run a 4.3 when there's a two-hopper to second base when you know what's going to happen."

This statement presents us with a bit of a conundrum, because the Certain Way says that everything in between the foul lines should be done at maximum speed, with little heed paid to probabilities or self-preservation. The world outside the clubhouse might view Jennings' statement as an obvious bit of pragmatism. But he clearly understood that, from the Game's perspective, he was treading dangerously close to heresy.

So what does all of this have to do with shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and manager Ryne Sandberg, and the passive-aggressive interplay that unfolded between the two as Rollins sat on the bench for 3 straight days this week? Perhaps nothing, if we focus on the parties involved.

For the last 2 years, Stanton has been the only reason to show up to Jeffrey Loria's publicly financed big top. He has hit 61 home runs while reaching base in 36.3 percent of his plate appearances, driving in 148 runs and scoring 137. Rollins is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, one in which he hit just .252/.318/.348 with six home runs. Jennings is in charge of building an organization. Sandberg is in charge of winning a particular day's game. Apples and oranges, to steal a comparison from Rollins.

But let's focus on the conundrum, because there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it lies at the heart of the peculiar relationship that is developing between the Phillies' longest-tenured player and their shortest-tenured manager. You could call it Old School vs. New School, but that would be trite, and probably not even accurate, because if we lived in a universe that was divided thusly, we would certainly have to count Charlie Manuel as a member of the first institution, which would call into question the novelty of the tension of opposites that currently exists. Instead, let's look at the situation as Means vs. Ends.

Disclaimer: Personal opinion based on 6 years of observational experience.

Rollins is an Ends guy. Since his first full major league season in 2001, he has recorded at least 625 plate appearances 12 times. The only other players to do so are Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols.

Say what you will about the means that Rollins has employed over the course of those 13 seasons, no player in baseball has been on the field with more regularity than he has, and according to the Baseball Code, that is worth something.

And he has done so while playing a position, at a Gold Glove level, that players end up moving on from because their bodies can no longer handle it. During that time frame, he has given the Phillies above-average offensive production for the position, and he has done so at a price tag well below his market worth. It's rarely a good thing to play amateur psychologist, but if we could climb into Rollins' head for a few moments, don't you think the End he has produced creeps to the forefront whenever somebody questions why he did not reach maximum velocity on his route to first base during a pop out, or why he walked into the clubhouse a couple of minutes past the company mandated time prior to one of 162 games?

In a perfect world, every player would approach every second of his baseball existence with the intensity of a Chase Utley, and none of those players would pay a physical price for said approach. But I will never forget a conversation I had with Dallas Green in 2011, the first year Sandberg was in big-league camp as a coach with the Phillies, and I asked him what Sandberg might teach Utley. The former Phillies GM and current front-office member talked about the lessons Sandberg could impart about the preservation of one's body, about the balls that just aren't worth the dive, that God gives us two knees for a reason, but only two. And that's not to say that Rollins is a smarter player than Utley, or that Utley is somehow less honorable because of the time he missed in 2011 and 2012 when the toll of all of those years of all-out play conspired to force him to the sidelines.

Point is, by the time a player reaches the age of a Rollins or an Utley, he has spent close to 2 decades in professional baseball, and in doing so has discovered the modus operandi that he believes is most suited toward achieving his ends. And attempting to change that MO is counterproductive. At the same time, Sandberg's message since inheriting the reins to the organization is an understandable one. He believes in Means, and he believes that they manifest themselves in Ends.

The important question is whether the two schools, however one chooses to label them, can coexist. With their careful choice of words yesterday, both men suggested that they can. Clearly, the Phillies need them to be correct.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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