Jimmy Rollins: Out of Philadelphia, I’m Now “Free”

He hasn't yet played a game for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the shortstop says he's more "free" with his new team. Let's wait until the games start.

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins against the Chicago White Sox during a spring training baseball game at Camelback Ranch.

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins against the Chicago White Sox during a spring training baseball game at Camelback Ranch.

Last year, Jimmy Rollins passed Mike Schmidt for the most hits in Phillies history. I happened to attend the next day. Rollins led off. He popped up.

“I’ll be so happy when he’s gone,” a fan behind me yelled. “The most overrated player in Phillies history.” It’s impossible to quantify just who is the most overrated player in the long history of the Fightin Phils, but it’s probably not the man with the biggest hit in Phillies history. But there has always been a segment of the fanbase that doesn’t like Rollins. He pops up too much. (Yeah, his infield fly ball numbers are a little higher than average.)

Sometimes, he doesn’t run out grounders. Last year, Pete Rose criticized Rollins for caring about individual statistics. (Yes, Pete Rose, the man who calls himself the Hit King.) The comments on this CSN Philly piece about Rose’s comments tell the story. One fan even calls Rollins a “cancer” on the team! 

That’s fine, of course. People are free to dislike whichever athletes they don’t like for whatever reasons. (I can’t keep track of how many athletes I don’t like just because of their facial hair.) In August of 2008, he called Philadelphia fans “frontrunners.” He didn’t mean it in the sense you’re thinking: “For example, Ryan [Howard] is from St. Louis and St. Louis, it seems like they support their team, they’re out there and encouraging. In Philly, can’t be no punk.” A Phillies fan should take that as a statement of praise. But, of course, many didn’t.

The Phillies traded Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers last year. Recently, Rollins gave an interview to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, and it has people buzzing. “Some of the best insights I’ve heard from a player,” Rosenthal tweeted, and he’s right. It’s a fascinating Q&A.

In it, Rollins discusses why he accepted a trade to the Dodgers, a team he hated his entire life: They beat his Oakland Athletics in the 1988 World Series — as a kid, he says he even rooted for the Giants (!) when they played the Dodgers — and he faced them with the Phillies in the 2008 and 2009 postseasons. He wanted to go to a team that had a long history. It’s actually what, I think, a lot of fans want in a player: He says he didn’t want to go to a “pop up franchise.” He respects the history of the game. He wanted the Phillies hits record because it was a milestone for a team that’s been around since 1883. Rollins isn’t a brash newcomer taking down all that has come before him; he’s a player who wants to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Then came the comments concerning Philadelphia fans.

The general area, the city [of Philadelphia] being blue-collar, it’s not conducive for a superstar. You can be good, but you’ve got to be blue-collar along the way, keep your mouth shut, just go and work. Where obviously, this is LA. It’s almost like it’s OK to be more flamboyant. You kind of appreciate that the more you’re out there. Because LA loves a star. So in that sense, I feel free. If I want to “show out” a little bit — from the outside looking in, people might say, “You’re in Hollywood.” But no, in some places you couldn’t do that.

Rollins here falls into the same trap as quite possibly every person who has ever talked about sports. Certain fanbases are “blue collar.” But follow sports enough and you’ll hear every fan base described in these terms. Every town has blue-collar fans. Are the fans more like this in Philadelphia? I dunno, maybe. But, trust me, there are people in Los Angeles who are angry the Dodgers didn’t get a lunchpail-type like Chase Utley instead of that showboater Jimmy Rollins. Yes, Kobe Bryant gets away with being a prima donna. He’s won five championships with the Lakers. The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988. Which superstars of theirs were beloved for showboating? That half-year Manny Ramirez hit .400 then lost to the Phillies in the NLCS?

Of course, some people are taking this as a shot at Philly fans. Sure, I guess it is — you could read it as saying we’re all too poor and stupid to appreciate his style of play. But he also praises fans: “They will tear your butt up, eat you alive. But it’s all preparation, I think — once baseball is done, for other parts of my life. You have to be accountable. If you’re going to call yourself a leader, you have to live by a different set of rules, a higher standard. That’s just the way it is.” Philadelphia fans have literally prepared Rollins for a future after baseball. What great people we are!

What’s also interesting in the interview is Rollins’ strategy for running out grounders. He’s not lazy, folks. It’s a choice!

Hustling? Hit the ball to second base, 70 percent is what I gave. When I hit it to the left side, I can’t really see, so I usually run a little run harder, because I don’t know what’s going on. But when it’s in front of me, that’s how it was. […] That gets back to the higher standards. No one goes hard all the time. But with a reputation, once you get that, if you’re not going 100 percent, then you’re never hustling. That’s OK. It kept me on the field. But if I had an opportunity to score a run, I scored that run.

Rollins is in a weird spot right now: He’s on a new team. He hasn’t played a game yet. Spring training stats aren’t meaningless. I bet once he realizes fans in Los Angeles will get on him for his lack of hustle, perceived or not, he’ll realize how things aren’t much different out in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, as time fades, Jimmy Rollins will come to be viewed as a great star, one who Philadelphians loved. How do I know this? We let Pat Burrell, frequently heckled in left field, lead the 2008 World Series parade.

Hell, it happened to Allen Iverson! One of the most divisive players in Philadelphia sports history — a man who didn’t practice, a man who forced the trade of non-complementary players, a man who literally believed the Philadelphia Police Department was out to get him — Iverson is now viewed as a man who could “get away with murder in Philadelphia.” It will happen to Jimmy Rollins, too. And why not? When it’s all over in sports, it’s only fun to remember the good times.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.