November 20, 2007

Captain Jimmy Rollins Puts His Butt on the Line and Delivers

It was announced today that Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He narrowly beat out Colorado Rockies leftfielder Matt Holliday who showed only class this afternoon when asked about his second-place finish by saying, “"It's Jimmy Rollins' day and I don't want to step on his day.”

Rollins had a tremendous year offensively, was recently voted the National League’s Gold Glove at shortstop, and proved prophetic in his Spring Training-statement that the Phils were the team to beat in the National League East.

Rollins’ MVP award is the second in a row for the Phillies’ organization. Last year, first-baseman Ryan Howard won the award. (This year, Howard finished fifth in voting).

I am excited.

Jimmy Rollins is just plain fun to watch. And he has the personality to match – see what he said about waiting for the call this morning.

Ken Mandel, writing on quoted Rollins as saying at his press-conference this afternoon, "When I woke up, I was trying to be nonchalant about it. At about five [a.m. PT], I jumped up and looked at the clock and was like, 'OK, I hadn't missed a phone call yet. At about nine, I was like, 'Oh man, I didn't get the phone call,' but it wasn't supposed to come for another hour and a half. When the call finally came, it was a great thing. I was thinking not to think about it, but you can't help but think about it in a situation like this."

Late this past season, ESPN's Peter Gammons worked a Sunday night Phillies game. He stood by the Phillies dugout for most of the entire game. Afterwards, he reported that Rollins - the entire game - was cheering and pushing the team onwards. Gammons said that he had never seen a player with so much energy pushing his team through all nine innings.

He is a constant ball of positive energy. He could lead this team to a World Series. Effectively, Rollins is now the captain. He put out his butt, staked his place, and led the team to the goal. Now the team is his.

And he is still positive and enthusiastic. He called Holliday and thanked him for inspiring him. And I get that it was not said in condescension or mockery. He genuinely carries himself and plays this way on the ball-field. He is a competitor – a warrior – and sans attitude.

The Phillies did something very interesting last year when they traded right-fielder Bobby Abreay to the New York Yankees.

Abreau was in his ninth-season with the Phillies, had made two All-Star teams, and placed six times in the National League Most Valuable Player voting. Abreau is a career .300 hitter, steals 20+ bases, and is good for more than 100 RBIs a year.

Yet the Phillies traded him and traded him for basically relief-pitcher Matt Smith, a serviceable reliever but certainly no All-Star.

A perception in Philadelphia was that Abreau was a pretty low-key individual, player, and clubhouse presence. At Philadelphia's harshest, we said that Abreau did not hustle.

My sense was that Abreau, for all of his talent, was just not a raw-raw leader personality. Which is how I think he fits so well on the Yankees where he can do his thing and is happy to play in the shadows of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and the carousel of All-Star and former-All-Star pitchers who come through Yankee Stadium.

But in Philadelphia, especially with Jim Thome's departure, Abreau was senior in the clubhouse and my theory is that his presence created a situation in which it might have been more difficult for the young blood of Rollins, Chase Utley, and Howard to rise such that their team leadership matched their leadership in offensive production.

The Phillies said good-bye to Abreau, put Shane Victorino in right-field, and watched the club thrive. Which may not have been all due to Abreau. But Rollins certainly took the opportunity to step into the role of team-leader.

Pat Burrell said it himself yesterday about Rollins, "This guy, he took us on his shoulders from Day 1, and did things in this game that never happened."

Rollins' achievement also stands-out alongside the awarding of the American League Most Valuable Player award to the Yankees' Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is fun to watch because he is so purely talented as a professional baseball player. He is a dangerous hitter and solid fielder. But boy does he come off as a jerk. Or at least as an individual not as conscious of his actions as one at the top could be.

What also delights me about Rollins winning the award is not just that he is the second Phillies in a row to win it, but he is the second Phillies player of color do win it.

I wrote a long piece on here a year ago, on November 28, 2006 called “Ryan Howard and the light of Dick Allen” after Howard’s award.

The Phillies have a troubled-record on race. I use the word “have” although it is an imprecise word in this case. It is not that they are still perpetuating the problem in so much as I believe an organization or person or nation can not run from its past, but be conscious and mindful of its past and image as it moves beyond it.

I cite this history as running from Jackie Robinson’s National League debut in 1947 through Allen’s departure from the team after the 1969 season.

I wrote last year how this history continued passively through the great teams and the 1993 National League pennant winners by virtue of the All-Stars on these clubs being primary white.

Hear me correctly: I do not judge the Phils to have been problematic on integrating players of color in these years. I do point out that the team’s history did not have a chance to be redeemed by virtue of the absence of players of color.

This is the first Phillies club where the faces of the club – the roles played by Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, and Mike Schmidt on the 1980 team, and Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, and John Kruk on the 1993 team – and in my book, a League MVP as face of the club – are African-American.

And as I wrote previously, the proper response to my noticing that Howard and Rollins are African-American is to say, “Who cares what color their skin is?! They are great players and that is all that matters!”

Exactly! The Phillies have come a long way as an organization and that is pretty awesome.

Viva la Jimmy Rollins! Viva la Jimmy Rollins!

November 06, 2007

If Alex Rodriguez Was a Rich Man

Alex Rodriguez, formerly of the New York Yankees, is now a free-agent.

It was reported on Friday, November 2 by that Rodriguez is seeking a minimum of $350 million for ten-years. This would be a yearly salary more than $10 million per-year above his current value as well as that of other top earners in the game.

Rodriguez was the second-highest paid player in Major League Baseball in 2007, slightly behind Jason Giambia and ahead of Derek Jeter, both teammates, according to figures on

Few argue that he is one of the best players in Major League Baseball.

He has played no fewer than 154 games per-season since 2001. In his career, he averages 44 homeruns per-162 games, 128 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, and a .306 average. At age 31, he has at least another five solid seasons and then maybe another five years where he is just good and not incredible. He could remain among the very best through the 2012 season.

Rodriguez chose free-agency with three years remaining on his current contract.

But not since, well, since Barry Bonds, has a player so good presented so many reservations for signing him. He enters the off-season having jilted the Yankees, and with fans, media members, and even the Commissioner of Major League Baseball angry at him for declaring his free-agency during the World Series.

The problem with all of our complains about Rodriguez is that it falls on deaf ears.

Rodriguez has a singular goal which is to make a lot of money.

Writing for the Associated Press on Sunday, Ronald Blum quoted Rodriguez as saying in Spring Training, “"I love being the highest-paid player in the game. It's pretty cool. I like making that money."

That is it.

He wants top dollar and cares less about the team for which he plays. In this sense, Rodriguez is the ultimate professional baseball player. I use “professional” not as a synonym for “class” but as the opposite of “amateur”. He is a mercenary of the truest type.

The problem is that the more he shows himself to be the mercenary he actually is, the less attractive he makes himself to potential employers.

On January 26, 2001, Rodriuez signed a ten-year contract with the Texas Rangers which would pay him $252 million. He was the highest paid player in Major League Baseball in 2001, 2002, and 2003. He hit no fewer than 47-homeruns per season with the Rangers and was named American League Most Valuable Player in 2003.

With Rodriguez in their lineup, the Rangers went 73 and 89 in 2001, 72 and 90 in 2002, and 71 and 91 in 2003. Figuring that they could lose without Rodriguez’s $22 million per-year salary, the Rangers traded him to the Yankees in February 2004.

Without Rodriguez, the Rangers won 89 games in 2004.

In the postseason, Rodriguez has been merely so-so. He hit .133 for the Yankees in the 2005 American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels and then hit .071 against the Detroit Tigers in 2006. He improved to .267 this season against Cleveland including one homerun that came too late to make any difference in the game or series.

In Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Rodriguez swatted at Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove to knock the ball loose. Not only is this interference for which he was automatically ruled out, it looked about as a professional as a second-grader playing t-ball.

The New York Times reported on May 31, 2007 that Rodriguez showed equal class in the previous day’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays when he shouted in distraction at Blue Jays third-baseman Howie Clark. The Blue Jays were furious at Rodriguez breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules while Rodriguez stood on third-base grinning like, well, a second-grader.

Rodriguez originally played for the Seattle Mariners. His final year in Seattle was 2000 when the Mariners went 91 and 71. In their first year without Rodriguez, the Mariners won 116 games.

Playing for the Yankees, he had public feuds with team captain Jeter, and this year, a public feud with his wife. She filed for divorce after Rodriguez was seen at a Toronto strip club with a former Playboy model.

Rodriguez could not even leave the Yankees in a positive way.

The Red Sox played the Colorado Rockies in game four of the World Series last Sunday night, October 28. Rodriguez’s agent, Boras, announced that Rodriguez was leaving the Yankees during the game itself.

Major League Baseball has a blanket moratorium on its thirty franchise clubs on announcements of managerial hires and player trades during the World Series. It is a nice tradition because it keeps the focus on the World Series and the two competing teams.

Game Four of the World Series did take 3-hours and 35-minutes. This is inexcusably too long for many reasons. And, it is not too long to wait to alert the world that you are a free-agent. Rodriguez could have even waited until Monday morning. Easily.

Many blame the World Series announcement and the $350 million demand on agent Scott Boras. I do not because structurally, Boras is Rodriguez’s agent. This is to say that Boras represents Rodriguez and only Rodriguez is responsible for Rodriguez’s salary demands, departures, and character.

Writing in the Times on Sunday, Jeffrey N. Gordon sees the mid-Game Four announcement as a conscious strategic move. In “Yankees Should Opt In for Rodriguez”, Gordon argues that Boras knew that the Yankees would announce the hiring of new manager Joe Girardi at the conclusion of the Series. Had Rodriguez announced following Girardi’s hire that he was opting-out, it could have appeared that he was leaving the Yankees in direct response to the hiring of Girardi. By announcing his free-agency prior to Girardi’s hiring, Gordon says that he left greater room for himself to resign with the Yankees.

It is a reasonable argument and could be true. Still, Rodriguez comes off looking very bad.

But I did not come to bash Cesar, but to defend him. Really.

I do not count myself among those Philadelphia Phillies fans who look at our hole at third-base this past season with Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, and Greg Dobbs, and salivate at batting Rodriguez with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. I do not want Rodriguez on the Phillies.

One reason is that the Phillies had a lot of character this season. The team came together and seemed to enjoy playing together. At least the position players did. I am concerned about the team overspending for Aaron Rowand to return to play centerfield, and he was a tremendous on-field presence, and by all accounts, clubhouse presence as well.

The other reason is that $25 to $30 million per-year can buy the Phillies (and any other team), two very good players rather than one. I would take two-players hitting .300 per-season with 20 to 30 homeruns each over one-Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez chose to opt out of the last three seasons of his contract with the Yankees, forgoing $91 million in salary, because after his MVP-caliber 2007 season, he believes he can sign a new contract worth more money and for a longer period of time.

Rodriguez cares most for securing the richest pay-day and does not seem to value the particular team for which he plays, city where he works and lives, or championship prospects of the organization.

The only question therefore is about the nature of the market for him.

In 2001, the Rangers and owner Tom Hicks is said to have paid tens of millions more for Rodriguez than the next highest bidder. Now, agent Boras and Rodriguez are looking for the 2007-2008 Off-season version of Hicks.

The natural destinations for Rodriguez would have been, well, the Yankees and Rangers. The Baltimore Orioles love themselves high-priced big-name free agents. By signing with Baltimore, it would also ensure that Rodriguez could continue not winning World Series titles.

But he will not sign with Baltimore.

Pundits point to Rodriguez going to Los Angeles, to either the Dodgers or Angels. They both need big offense, have the financial resources to do a deal, and Rodriguez could hang out with David Beckham and be fabulous in SoCal.

He could also go upstate to San Francisco where the Giants need a new gate attraction to continue paying for their privately financed gem of a ballpark. Detroit is also a possibility if only because the Tigers are one of the few franchises that still have a positive working relationship with Boras.

If Rodriguez’s goal was to make more money over a longer time-period, he only needs one team willing to pay more than $91 million for more than three years to make his departure from the Yankees worthwhile.

All he needs is one team to sign him.

Remember, all he wants is to be the highest paid in Major League Baseball. Is that so wrong?