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Ferguson: Backlash against Phillies' Rollins is unwarranted

Scott Ferguson, TSN 1050
3/21/2014 11:38:53 AM
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For the last couple of weeks, there has been a strange and somewhat sad story unfolding in the Philadelphia Phillies camp. Jimmy Rollins, who should go down as one of the all-time great Phillies, is being questioned about his attitude and whether he is hurting the franchise by refusing to allow himself to be traded.

Rollins is 35 years old and has played in Philadelphia his entire career. He's a three-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glover. He won a Silver Slugger Award and was named the National League MVP in 2007, in addition to winning a World Series with the Phils in 2008.

Rollins has one year, plus a vesting option for another year, left on his contract. He is a "5/10" man, that is, he has played 10 years in the Majors and five consecutive years with his current team, so he has the power to veto any trade. It's no secret that the Phillies are an older, veteran team that may have one more shot at glory or, more likely, is heading for a blow-up and a major rebuild. Rollins, perhaps bothered or jaded by the team's struggles the past couple of years, was accused in so many words of not hustling enough or providing enough leadership. At one point, his previous manager, Charlie Manuel, benched him to send a message and this spring, his current manager, Ryne Sandberg, sat Rollins for three days after he said that spring training games were basically meaningless.

The Detroit Tigers need a shortstop since Jose Iglesias is likely gone for the season with stress fractures in both of his legs. Rumours began that the Phils might try to deal Rollins to the Tigers. Rollins responded by saying he is unmovable because, at this time, he doesn't want to go anywhere. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. angrily shot down the rumours, saying there never was any talk of trading Rollins in the first place.

One of Rollins's motives for wanting to stay in Philly is his pursuit of the franchise's all-time hits record. He needs just 60 more to break Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt's mark of 2234. Rollins is fourth on the list right now behind Schmidt, Richie Ashburn and Ed Delahanty. Even with a subpar season, Rollins will pass all three as long as he stays healthy.

Jimmy Rollins is accused of being selfish for not allowing a trade for the good of the franchise. In Toronto, Mats Sundin and Carlos Delgado took the same kind of heat from Leafs and Blue Jays fans when they refused to be dealt in the final years of their contracts. Rollins is already the Phils' career leader in doubles, but the hits record is something special to him. As he put it, only 30 players in baseball can say they lead a franchise in base hits. Is he being selfish? Not if he gives everything he's got to the Phillies every time he's on the diamond.

Rollins wouldn't be the first to hang in to attempt to reach a career milestone. Two of the greatest pitchers in Major League history hung in past their primes in order to reach 300 wins. Lefty Grove, in some pundits' minds the greatest pitcher of all-time, came back in 1941 needing seven wins for 300. He won his 299th on July 2 of that season. Essentially down to being a once-a-week pitcher for the Boston Red Sox at that time, he didn't get number 300 until July 25 and it wasn't pretty. Grove went all the way in a 10-6 victory over Cleveland giving up five earned runs on 12 hits. He never won again that season and called it a career on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Early Wynn, Tom Cheek's original partner on the Blue Jays' radio broadcasts, went 7-15 with the Chicago White Sox in 1962 and finished that season with 299 victories. He came back with the Cleveland Indians, the club with which he had most of his greatest seasons, in 1963 at age 43 for one last shot at number 300. On July 13, he finally got it , but hardly in grand and glorious style. Wynn left the game after five innings with Cleveland holding a 5-4 lead over the Kansas City Atheltics. Early's roommate, Jerry Walker, took over and held KC scoreless over the final four innings. Wynn became the first pitcher to have won 300 since Lefty Grove in 1941.

There was one other case that I can recall of a player hanging in to get a record. Carlton Fisk, then of the Chicago White Sox, broke Bob Boone's all-time record for games caught behind the plate with his 2,226th on June 22, 1993. Six days later, in what was perceived to be a heartless move, Fisk was released by the club.

Is Jimmy Rollins selfish? No less so than any of the above three Hall of Famers. As long as the effort and the desire are there, I say more power to Rollins. He has a contract and the rules of baseball say he can't be traded.

The one last twist to this story: Mike Schmidt is an icon in Philadelphia and will be working on home-game telecasts on Sunday's this season. There are a lot of Philllies fans who don't want to see him lose this record. Rollins's position in all of this reminds of the heat Roger Maris was taking in his successful pursuit of Babe Ruth's single season home run record in 1961. Some never forgave him for hitting 61 in '61. Jimmy Rollins doesn't deserve to receive the same kind of scorn. If he breaks the record, he's earned it.

- It's hard to get into the idea of the season opening this weekend in Australia. The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking on the Arizona Diamondbacks in two games before returning to Arizona for the remainder of spring training. The really strange thing is, thanks to the time difference, the season effectively opens as a day-night doubleheader for us. The first game starts at 4am et/1am pt on Saturday morning and the second one at 10pm et/7pm pt on Saturday night.

- One sad note out of the Blue Jays' camp: the team released lefty reliever Luis Perez to make room for utility slugger
Matt Tuiasosopo, who was picked up on waivers from Arizona. Two years ago, Perez, for my money, was the best all-around reliever in the Jays' bullpen. But then he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. Perez was supposed to be back this season like  Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek, however, he had a set back in the offseason and needed further surgery to remove scar tissue. Now at 29, his career is in limbo. Here's hoping he can make it back all the way to the Bigs somewhere.



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