Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spring Forward

Phillies fans don’t seem happy unless they are fussing about Jimmy. If he isn’t walking enough, they complain. Drop him in the order, they cry. If he’s swinging early in the count or for the fences, they protest. No patience! And if he’s proclaiming the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East, they howl about his providing bulletin-board material.

C’mon, fans, lighten up and enjoy the talents and personality of one of the most enjoyable players to come to these parts in many a season. Rollins is fun to watch, on the field, in the dugout or outside the lines. Few, if any, players in memory enjoy playing the game more.

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In a piece he wrote last Sunday, estimable Inquirer columnist Jim Salisbury noted there were the usual number of stories coming out of training camps about players who were issuing ultimatums of one sort of another about getting their due on the field and in their bank accounts. “Disrespect” is the common word heard uttered by many of these disgruntled “sign-me-or-else” types, as Salisbury labels them.

On the surface, it’s hard to figure how someone making north of $10 million a year could ever see himself as unappreciated. Sure, if a player with less talent, experience or statistics is making more money I can understand how someone would want to be paid as well, but is this “disrespect” or other forces at work? As Salisbury pointed out in his piece, should a team be rushing to throw more money and a contract extension at a 37-year old pitcher with a recent history of arm miseries no matter how great his career has been? One man’s “disrespect” is another man’s caution.

“Disrespect” is today’s sporting buzzword for a multitude of perceived injustices, virtually none of which have any foundation in reality. While it would be easy to slough off such talk as posturing or negotiating, it still grates in the context of its current usage as opposed to its original and real meaning. If anything, it’s misuse by many of today’s athletes is disrespectful of language.

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I and virtually every other blogger I read shudders at the thought of the Phillies going into the coming season with Antonio Alfonseca as the set-up man in the bullpen. It isn’t as if the 34-year old righthander hasn’t pitched well at some previous stops – his 2004 season in Atlanta was good – it’s just that his two most recent campaigns have been marked by ineffectiveness and injury. Then, too, there is the matter of his walking more than one batter for every two he fans over his ten year career.

Spring Training doesn’t offer relief pitchers much opportunity to show their stuff, but I would be very surprised if when the Phillies broke camp at the end of March they didn’t bring Fabio Castro north with them. Charlie Manuel may have “protected” Castro last season when they were forced to carry him on the 25-man roster as a Rule 5 player, but in his brief outings the youngster showed a lot of promise. He has a live arm and good stuff. What he lacks at this point is command, and there’s only one way to find out if a pitcher has that, and it isn’t throwing to the bullpen catcher.


RickSchuBlues said...

Well, I'm one of Rollins' biggest fans, but I'm not sure how I feel about his brazen posturing. It seems refreshing on one hand, but wholly inappropriate on the other. Yes, Rollins is calling the team out, well and good, but no one wearing a Phillies uniform has the right to go about things without some degree of humility. In the words of Steve Wonder: You haven't done nothing.

The 1993 Phillies had a terrific air of cockiness, but a moment from the highlight film of that year sticks in my mind: the Phillies had just swept the Cardinals in a pivotal series in July, and a cameraman inside the clubhouse caught Darren Daulton intoning above the din: "No popping off in the papers." A team can be cocky all it wants, but only after it has done what it thinks it can do - and in a way which doesn't step on others' toes. Why can't Rollins say, we're ready to win, which calls attention to the Phillies - instead of, we're the team to beat, calling attention to the slight of other teams? It's just not the best way to go about things. If the Phillies do end up winning the division, all the columnists will point back to Feb. 20 and Rollins' audacity - but if the Mets win again, they might well point back to that same date. His comments get other teams worked up as much as it stands to get his own team worked up, and they could have been presented in a way which avoided this effect.

Tom Goodman said...

I think way too much has been made of his statements. OK, he thinks they are the team to beat. If they win, he looks like an oracle. If they fail to win the division, Jimmy can say "we were the team to beat." I think all this bulletin board stuff is overrated big time unless someone calls another team, coach or player a bunch of cheaters or something equivalent. I don't think professional athletes rely on others to get them worked up, especially over a 162 game season.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

In truth, I didn't mind the intial statement and liked the followup comments today. They spoke to me of commitment and focus (if you're afraid, I don't want you on my team).

Look, if he's pulling the team together (which he is), and trying to push 'em on, great. He doesn't seem to put any of the player's noses out of joint. It's easy to say 'don't get cocky' but Jimmy *has* walked the walk (well, okay, maybe not the walks, but . . .). The guy works every year - every year it seems the strikeouts are down a little bit more, he's tweaking something to get better. His streak ended right at the start of last season, and by the end you could still point to him being crucial to the team. So I think the guy's earned the right to be cocky.

The comments will never sit well with a phillies fan because we do expect all mouth and no performance. But like I said - Jimmy always tries to improve, and usually succeeds.

RickSchuBlues said...

I maintain my skepticism. My eyebrows were also raised by Jimmy's comment that 'this has been my team for a long time.' Really? How do Ryan Howard and Chase Utley feel about that? Most likely, they'll pay it no mind, or even perhaps agree with him. But number one: at no time in his career has Rollins been even the third-best player on the team. And two, I find it rather distasteful to just come out and say, "Okay, I'm the leader." That isn't how it should be: your teammates will tell you, and tell others for you, if you're the leader. There should be no need to announce it yourself. It's poor judgments like that, in fact, that make me wonder if he's really qualified to lead in the first place.

As it is, he ought to be prepared to get knocked on his ass the second he steps in the box against the Mets. I disagree that his comments won't motivate that team to stick it to the Phillies this season. I guarantee it's going to make things even edgier than usual between the two teams.

It's simply a foolish move by Rollins. It's not like the Phillies are these perennial underdogs, sneaking up the league. They're pedigreed underachievers who get plenty of raves every spring and then don't back it up. I would be more receptive to this is recent history isn't what it was. The Phillies seemed to be sporting a bit of a 'tude at the end of 2005, and I believed they had turned a certain corner - only to completely lose any semblance of confidence once the new season began. I'm glad Rollins is so convinced that won't happen again, but I'm not jumping on board the Cocky Train until I see it show up on the field sometime before August.