When you think about it, Jimmy Rollins breaking the Phillies all-time hits record encapsulates both the good and the bad of where the organization is right now. On one hand, the Philadelphia fanbase blindly followed the team’s ‘core’ group of players off a cliff and now see what happens when a franchise is unable to bring themselves to part ways with their aging stars when their value is at a premium. Even as the Phillies continue to pile up losses at a rate that this city hasn’t seen this century, there is still reluctance towards the idea of moving Chase Utley or Rollins to start rebuilding a broken roster. One would have to argue that this is a result of the nostalgia of the team’s glory days and, especially with the everyday nature of the MLB season, the forged fan-player relationship built up over the years. Successful teams in today’s MLB are the ones who are able to make the difficult decisions and cast off a fading star before the rest of the league realizes that player is no longer capable of carrying a team to contention. While the Phillies were tinkering and nitpicking to try to go after ‘one more’ World Series with its primary contributors to the 2008 championship, they were unknowingly sealing their fate to dwell in the depths of the National League when their stars talents started to fade and there was no longer an exceptional secondary cast to pick up the slack. There are dark days ahead for the Phillies, there is no doubt. Even if the team makes perfect decisions for the next year, the damage done by Ruben Amaro Jr. and the front office is such that the entire organization, minor leagues included, will require years to return to any sort of competitive level.
There are some who may disagree with me, but I actually think that Jimmy Rollins transcends the fellow members of the Phillies core group. Don’t get me wrong; Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, and Carlos Ruiz will always hold a special place in my heart for helping provide a five-year stretch of dominance that no other team in the city was able to do prior to their run. That being said, Rollins’ spot in the pantheon of Philadelphia sports should have zero debate about it. Since proclaiming the Phillies as ‘the team to beat’ in the NL East prior to their division title in 2007, Rollins has done what every Philadelphian wants from their athletes but is too reluctant to admit it. As great as it is to have Rollins take on the baseball world and defy apparent logic with his predictions and bravado, what is more impressive about J-Roll is that he takes every ounce of hate slung his way by fans in his own city and keeps doing his thing.
Whenever the topic of playing or coaching in Philadelphia is brought up, we often cringe at the answers of former members of our own beloved four teams. Terms like ‘breath of fresh air’ and ‘impossible to please’ are often tossed around as cast-offs readjust to their less critical new fanbases. Yet, and I am far from innocent in this respect; talk-radio callers, Tweeters, and message board writers take to their respective medium every day to criticize 99% of the Philadelphia sports population. Do I think this is necessarily a bad thing? No. Living and working in a city where people are as passionate about their teams as those in Philadelphia are is all I’ve ever wanted and it continues to bring personal and professional satisfaction. Still, can you blame athletes in other cities for enjoying the God-like status they receive even when they don’t win championships? Athletes have to be among the most egotistical people in the country and when that ego is threatened, sometimes on a daily basis, it tends to wear thin. Whether it is Jayson Werth, Flyers West, Andre Iguodala, or even Donovan McNabb; there’s a reason these former players seem to take great satisfaction to sticking it to their old teams. What makes Rollins great, and why he is this generation of Philadelphia sports greatest athlete in my opinion, is that he welcomes the hate and brushes it off. A tactic that, with every first-pitch pop up and slow trot to first, brings more anger and frustration to the proud Philadelphia fans.
Jimmy’s faults are what make him the perfect athlete for this city. He is never trying to please us, necessarily. He knew the pulse of his team and knew his place within the framework of arguably the most talented collection of players the city has seen since the 1983 76ers. Rollins’ approach to the game reminded me of Chris Pronger’s before his injury. There was always a confidence and swagger in his game, whether things were going good or bad. It has never been about bringing fans to the ballpark or keeping his name off the airwaves. Instead Rollins decided, long before the team’s meteoric rise and disastrous fall, that he would serve as the lightning rod for a team that needed it. As praise was showered over Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Ryan Howard; Rollins barely shuttered about the notion that he would not hustle or took plays off. Championship teams need at least one crucial figure with elephant skin to take on the hate where others cannot. Rollins knew how to win before the rest of the team did, and was receptive to any and all doubt towards him while the rest of the roster learned how to win like him. Jimmy Rollins is not the reason the Phillies are in the mess that they are in, but I would argue he’s the biggest reason that we’re so disappointed that they aren’t where they were three years ago.
Jimmy Rollins will most likely break Mike Schmidt’s all-time hits record by the time this weekend is over. He will also most likely do so in front of crowds that dwarf the ones that used to split the seams of Citizen’s Bank Park. Yet, when Rollins does collect hit number 2,235 he will have accomplished what he set out to so many years ago. Jimmy Rollins is the best Phillie of this generation and has as much of an argument against Schmidt, Carlton, Utley, Howard, or any of the other greats as the best of all-time. I find this to be the case because, in an era where athletes are criticized head-on, 24/7, Rollins has never wavered in his approach that made him the life force of this team. If I were a betting man, I think this city will look back on Rollins and marvel at how he stood in the face of criticism from the harshest fans in the country and still helped bring them a winner and champion.