MVP?: Rollins May Not Speak Softly, But He Carries A Big Stick

By Jim Salisbury
Updated: September 17, 2007

NEW YORK – We finally found an area in which Jimmy Rollins is not performing well this season. That would be fibbing.

In the afterglow of the Phillies’ sweep of the Mets Sunday, Rollins was asked whether he found it exciting to hear his name frequently mentioned as a National League MVP candidate.

“No,” he said with a 10,000-watt smile lighting up his face. Unable to contain his true feelings, Rollins warmed to the MVP chatter.

“It’s definitely fun to be mentioned in that breath,” he said. “It means you’re doing well, helping out, and most likely your team is winning.”

He said he would “love” to win the MVP award, “but if I had my choice between that and a ring — I’d take both.” Another big smile crossed Rollins’ face.

In an era when many athletes carefully measure every word they speak, Rollins’ honesty is always refreshing. Many ballplayers would be reluctant to admit that winning the MVP award was on their mind when a championship was possible. Rollins doesn’t care. He’d like to win both, so he admits it.

The swaggering 28-year-old has always spoken his mind, but never more so than this year. He provided the unofficial opening of the 2007 season last winter when he announced that the Phillies were the team to beat in the National League East.

The comment reverberated all over baseball. Even Phillies general manager Pat Gillick cringed a little because he was leery of providing other teams with bulletin-board material and “putting a bull’s-eye” on the Phillies’ back.

Nowhere did Rollins’ comment resonate more than in New York, where the defending division champion Mets, and their fans, could not believe the audacity of the Phillies shortstop. From the Phillies’ first game in New York this season (on April 9) to their last (yesterday), Rollins was booed. And in between the slings and barbs, all he did was produce and back up his words.

In 18 games against the Mets this season, Rollins was 28 for 81, an average of .346, with four doubles, two triples, six homers and 15 RBIs.

He replaced the rat — not Billy Wagner, who was once called a rat by Pat Burrell, but the actual rodent — as the official pest of Shea Stadium. And he loved every minute of it.

Given his preseason boast, Rollins could not afford the embarrassment of a poor season against the Mets. His words ensured that he would be sharp every time he played them.

They also may have had a positive effect on his teammates. The Phils went 12-6 against the Mets for the season and swept three series.

“I think when he said that, he helped get us going,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “That and when he plays good against them, [it] helps get us going. It put more thinking and zip into the way we played the Mets. When the fans start chanting and booing at Jimmy, I think it gets us all going.”

Rollins doesn’t think his preseason words gave his team any more zip against the Mets. But there’s no denying the importance of the 12 wins against the division leaders. (There’s no way the Mets want to see the Phils in the playoffs, if the Phils make them.)

Without those 12 wins, the Phils wouldn’t be where they are today – 11/2 games out of the wild-card lead and 31/2 out of the division lead with less than two weeks to play.

We know what you’re thinking: The Phils swept the Mets last month, then lost five of seven. Clearly, the Phils have to guard against that happening again as they began a series in St. Louis Monday playing a team that has lost 10 of 11. An emotional sweep of the Mets followed by three against a down-and-out team — this series has trap written all over it, but the Phils can’t let themselves get pinched.

“Hopefully, we learned something,” Rollins said, referring to the skid the Phillies endured after their last sweep of the Mets.

The Phils will send Kyle Kendrick, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer to the mound in the three-game series. And they’ll also have their constant at shortstop, the man who has been their MVP and might end up as league MVP.

Entering Monday’s play, Rollins leads the league in multi-hit games with 58, in runs with 127, and in total bases with 347. The only guy in the majors with more total bases is Alex Rodriguez.

Rollins’ RBI double in the fifth Sunday was his 81st extra-base hit. Before the season is over, he could become the first to reach 30 steals (he has 36), 40 doubles (he needs four), 20 triples (he needs two) and 30 homers (he needs three). He’s done all that while starting every game at arguably the most difficult position and making just 10 errors.

“I think he should win the MVP and the Gold Glove,” Phillies first-base coach Davey Lopes said. “What this guy has done is amazing.”

Privately, the New York Mets would concur. They’ve seen (and heard) enough of Jimmy Rollins for one season.