Don't make Rollins the fall guy

Posted: March 20, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Let's take a moment to say what should not happen. We'll humor Ruben Amaro Jr. and Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa by including the obligatory disclaimer that we should not infer concretely that it will happen, or that it is currently happening. But we'll also point out that, if things were to unfold in the manner in which they shouldn't, the crescendo of criticism regarding Jimmy Rollins that has developed over the last 7 months would be consistent with the way these kinds of Things That Shouldn't Happen have happened in the past.

For supplemental reading, we'll direct your attention to the case files labeled, in alphabetical order, "Iguodala, A.," and "McNabb, D."

Of course, what shouldn't happen is what usually does whenever the national media begins to acknowledge and investigate the charges of gross negligence and/or roster malpractice that have percolated through a fan base to a point where it is no longer in the professional interest of said national media members to ignore them in hopes of maximizing their page rank in whatever algorithm general managers and their fixers use to select the mouth into which they will dribble their next little crumb of an exclusive.

It is the natural order of things. A front office can usually ignore criticism from the local sphere by brushing it off as a product of the cynicism/irrationalism inherent in the local media and fan base. But the calculus changes when the national headlines begin to blare with proclamations such as "Scout: The only thing that makes the Phillies watchable is my paycheck."

Because, at that point, the criticism begins to dribble into their bosses' spheres. And with that, the crap begins to flow in its usual direction. We saw it with the Eagles, and we saw it with the Flyers, and we saw it with the Sixers, and now we are watching it with the Phillies.

Step 1: Identify a target that minimizes the chances of blowback from the fan base. In an ideal world, this player(s) should already be perceived as "difficult" or "unmotivated" or "self-centered," but in extreme circumstances such reputations can be built through careful leaks to the press, perhaps with regard to excessive indulgence in nightlife, "soft" play, etc.

Step 2: Build a connection between physical success/failure and abstract notions that cannot be objectively measured like "toughness" and "leadership" and "positive attitude" and "energy."

Step 3: Suggest that aforementioned Target(s) are not in possession of said Abstractions.

Step 4: Build a connection between Target(s) supposed Lack of Abstractions and the entire team's level of those abstractions.

As for Step 5, well, we all know how that usually works out. Sometimes, we end up realizing that our Target(s) probably weren't The Problem, perhaps when they proceed to win a Stanley Cup together on another team. Sometimes, we end up replacing the invented problem with a Real Problem, perhaps when we watch the front office trade for a center with bad knees and little apparent desire to play basketball. And sometimes, we end up realizing that there is plenty of blame to go around.

Point is, there will be a Day of Reckoning for these Phillies, and it may be nigh. So it'd be a shame to spend what little time we have left together in a futile attempt to deflect blame that could end up tarnishing the legacy of the longest-tenured athlete in Philadelphia (stop me if that sounds familiar), a guy who has played a demanding position at a high level, a guy who signs more autographs during spring training than any of his similarly-compensated teammates, a guy who any city should want to keep in its sphere of influence long past his playing days.

The Phillies are not a well-constructed baseball team. They could be good if everything breaks right. Thus far, not much is breaking right. If they end up achieving their very real potential of Crude Oil Train Wreck, it will not be because they do not have enough Heart or Hustle or Energy or Guys Who Have Pine Tar on their Helmets and Dirt on their Jerseys. It will be because they are not well constructed, a fact that anybody with two eyes and no vested interest has been able to see on a daily basis this spring.

The other shame that would lie in That Which Should Not Happen is that a Hall of Famer who, from my vantage point, has the potential to be a very good manager, could end up casting his lot with the aforementioned abstractions, and when those abstractions fail to prevent Citizens Bank Park from turning into a thick, toxic cloud of black smoke in the middle of May, the blame could turn on him. From the moment Sandberg took the job, it was clear he had been given a mandate by management to Change the Culture, and it is hard to blame him for attempting to do so. But my personal viewpoint is the only thing that changes culture, that injects energy, that breeds positivity, is winning. And anybody who attempts to force any of those things on veterans who know better does so at the risk of turning an unfortunate final chapter into an ugly and regrettable one.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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