The charm of Jimmy Rollins

Posted: June 13, 2014

BEFORE YOUR time, and my time, there was a television show called "This Is Your Life." It is the first thing that comes to mind as Jimmy Rollins stands on the cusp of Phillies history.

For 15 years, he has been the franchise and the franchise has been him and everything that that means. The funny thing is that it means different things to different people, and it always will - because people are different, arriving at any conversation with a variety of experiences and preconceptions. Rollins will be cherished by some people and underappreciated by other people, and no amount of convincing will change that at this point.

Some would see that as Rollins' burden, the fact that some people still don't get him even after all of these years. Others would see that as Rollins' inevitability, the product of the typical human complications after 15 years of watching somebody play.

To me, it is Rollins' charm - the charm of being unique (and great). We don't always do unique well - not in sports in general, and not in Philadelphia sports in particular. We prefer people who color most often within the lines - it's just easier that way. That has not been Rollins. He has been Jackson Pollock in pinstripes instead.

We all thought what we knew a leadoff hitter was supposed to do statistically - and then Rollins turned that notion on its head, winning an MVP Award in the process and at least flirting with the Hall of Fame.

We all thought we knew everything there was to know about hustle - and then Rollins made all of us re-examine our consciences, rethinking the difference between hustle and false hustle, acknowledging that maybe a guy who is annually among the league leaders in plate appearances might have a little better idea about the limits of the human body during the long baseball season than the rest of us.

That is just a sliver of what all of this is about, this now-inevitable march toward history. With a first-inning single in yesterday's 7-3 win over the Padres, Rollins has 2,333 hits and is one away from tying Mike Schmidt for the franchise's all-time record.

The fanfare has been muted as Rollins has approached the number. He has not talked about it at all in recent weeks. But, as with everything Rollins, there has been controversy - people slamming him for nothing, for what could not be anything but pride in what is about to happen, as if that pride somehow equates to selfishness. It is crazy, but also typical with this player at this time.

Fifteen years. Fifteen.

Rollins arrived here in 2000 and joined a moribund franchise, a team playing in a decaying ballpark as the rest of the sport had begun to shine, a team whose fan base did not believe it would spend the money to compete. He arrives at his 2014 milestone and watches, along with the rest of us, as the franchise approaches a crossroads, seemingly prepared to begin again.

In between? It was only the greatest era in the history of the franchise - and Rollins was in the the middle of it, in the middle of it the whole way. He was the one, the only one on his team, willing to announce to the world that the Phillies were ready to take over in the National League East in 2007 - and what followed was even more meaningful: the MVP season, the sustained presence at the top of the order, the jarring combination of speed and power and the impeccable defense at shortstop.

The package might just be unprecedented in all of baseball and certainly in Philadelphia baseball - and all of it is wrapped in a smiling, stubborn confidence. You hang around long enough and you find that excellence in sports is not often accompanied by self-doubt. Maybe at the beginning of a career, yes, and maybe at the very end - but in the middle, when greatness is defined, confidence is the match that keeps the fire lit. Talent still matters most of all - it is the essential fuel - but confidence is what keeps the thing going.

Rollins always had it, from the time he was a young kid to his time today as the father of a young family. When he stood up for himself against various criticisms along the way . . . when he stood up for his team before the 2007 season . . . when he stared down Jonathan Broxton in the 2009 NLCS and rifled that walkoff double into the gap . . .

From then to now, a career in full, done his way, Jimmy Rollins' way. It really is history.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

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