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May 02, 2016

The Q&A ... with White Sox shortstop (and Phillies hit king) Jimmy Rollins

BALTIMORE – The Phillies rebuild is moving along pretty well, if you take stock of both the impact a young and improving rotation has had on the major league field and with the progress being made throughout the minor leagues, where the organization had more prospects than any other team in at least one offseason ranking.

Looking back, you can make an argument that the rebuild began with the same player that kicked off arguably the best era of Phillies baseball nearly a decade ago.

In December of 2014, a week before Christmas, the Phillies sent iconic shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first of more than a half-dozen trades that sent veterans out and brought prospects in. Rollins, of course, is the franchise’s all-time hit king and the player whose words (“we’re the team to beat”) followed by his actions (he went on to win the National League MVP that same season) got the Phillies five-year run going.

He may be two teams and nearly a year and a half removed from wearing red pinstripes, but Jimmy Rollins, 37, is still at it and hasn’t forgotten all that was accomplished in Philadelphia (even after he left, too).

Rollins is the starting shortstop for the Chicago White Sox, a team with the most wins in baseball and the best record in the American League.
 If the Phillies (who would have pegged them for a winning record in April?) are the NL’s surprise team so far, the White Sox (76-86 last season) surely hold that title in the junior circuit.

Rollins is hitting .243 with a .652 OPS in 18 games, certainly not up to his standards, but a tick better than his numbers last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is still his dependable self at shortstop.

PhillyVoice caught up with Rollins when his White Sox were at Camden Yards to play the Baltimore Orioles the other day.

I was looking at some memorable milestones coming up for you.

     Jimmy Rollins: OK.

This winter will make it 10 years since the “we’re the team to beat.” Does it feel like it’s been 10 years? Crazy, right?

     That is. (But) no, not really. I guess if I were to look at it, yeah, that as a while ago. But, really, 10 years? When (the media) set me up in the winter? [laughs] I was referencing something the other day. And I was like, yeah, 5-6 years ago… and I can’t remember what it was. But then I’m like, ‘Maybe it was 10 years ago?” And they all just kind of looked at me like, “How do you get 5 and 10 years mixed up?” They just run together after a while. You go to sleep, have an offseason, you wake up, and all of a sudden you’re at spring training again. It happens, trust me. When you’re young and you’ve still got so much ahead … but when most of it’s behind you, it’s like, yeah, you start looking back, thinking, that was about 5 years - wait, that was 8 years ago??

Yep, like the Phillies just collected their first sweep in Washington since 2009 and I was like, “Well, that was just a few years ago.” Wait, no, 2009 was a while ago.

     It is. But when you’ve covering baseball and you’re in it so long, you’re like, “Yeah, that was a few years ago.” Nah, that was 7 years ago.

"OK, they have Mike Schmidt and an ugly-ass stadium," Rollins thought to himself after being drafted. "That’s who the Phillies were to me."

The other one: you were drafted…

     Twenty years ago (this June), I know, I know. Yeah.

What are your memories of that day?

     I was at my parents' house. We were planning for a party. My mom went out to get some stuff she needed. She was a little nervous, so she didn’t want to hang around the phone. I was like, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll let you know when I get a phone call.” So she leaves, I get a phone call. I was drafted. Bob Poole (then a Phillies area scout) called. I was like, I don’t even know who you are.

He was just one of the many people you met?

     He was the only one that actually came around (from the Phillies), but, I was (told) I was either going to Atlanta or Seattle. That was for sure. I think Seattle had a pick in front of Atlanta, so they were kind of jockeying back and forth. Philly? OK, they have Mike Schmidt and an ugly-ass stadium. That’s who the Phillies were to me. I was like, alright whatever. Then after the call I’m like, The who? Phillies? Because, like I said, my mind was set that I was going to either Atlanta or Seattle. That’s who I had been dealing with, knew the scouts very well, played at the winter thing with the Mariner team. The Phillies may have come out once. But I guess Bob Poole was coming around. And I knew who Bob Poole was. So he was around. But the Phillies only came out for one game and that was it. So to me, in my mind, it just didn’t make sense. What? The who? OK. He’s like, we took you in the second round. I was like, I’m going to school. No, I’m going to school.

You really were unsure?

     Yeah, I was like, the only reason I didn’t go in the first round is because I’m 5-7. I’m going to school, I’d rather go to school. Then I (thought) …. Nah, second round is pretty good. [laughs hard]. Second round is pretty good. So my mom comes home, and I’m still disappointed. She comes home and I didn’t tell her. I was just sitting on the couch chilling. So she’s cleaning up, not knowing what to do. She said, “It’s OK, babe.” I was like, “Nah, they didn’t call.” She’s like ‘What? Second round to the Phillies.” Just like that. She said, “Boy, you had me going around all nervous.” I said all you had to do was ask, I would have told you. But she didn’t ask, I was going to let her suffer. Then everybody came over around 3 o’clock, after school, friends and family came over, we hung out all night celebrating. Bob Poole came by, dropped off some Phillies gear and we took a lot of pictures. And yeah, it was a good time.

How much longer are you going to play?

     Until I can’t. Two things: either I’m ultimately not productive and I say, OK, I’ve had enough. Or the teams say, ‘You’ve had enough.’ So, it’d probably be – the latter. You know. But, it could be, you never know. I could be just like, yeah, I could go out there and play. But, it’s just time. For Torii Hunter, it was just time. D.J. (Derek Jeter), he could have probably played another two years and still been decent. But it was just time. What more am I going to get out of it?

One day might show up to the park, and it'll be "Why am I still doing this?" or  "My back is killing me."

     Exactly. And you start looking at like, man, the kids are out of school, I want to hang out with them. It’s time. We’re all going to get there. It’s just when do you get it started.

(Roy) Halladay was almost like that. He had physical things going on, but he was still chasing a ring. But just came to grips, like, you know what, I can’t be the pitcher I was.

     Well no one is ever going to be who they were, not without help. So. I don’t plan on needing any help other than what God has already given me.

Been a weird week for all of that.

     I know.

"It’ll never be completely, as they want to say, clean. But there’s always chemists out there and somebody out there willing to take a chance."

Terrible. Dee Gordon?

     I just found out 20 minutes ago about Dee. I went home, TV wasn’t on. I woke up, no TV on. I got up, went to the aquarium and I was like, what? Ahhh, man….

The testing is working.

     It’s always worked, obviously. But there is stuff that hasn’t been detected, or they’ve found ways to get it in and out of your system. No matter what, it’ll never be completely, as they want to say, clean. But there’s always chemists out there and somebody out there willing to take a chance. And, you can see guys that, you know, are willing to take a chance because that might be the only way they get up there. You know? To them, it might be worth it. And, there are always going to be those guys so there are always going to be somebody in the lab cooking. You know.



Let’s try something happier.

     Yeah, right. [Laughs]

There are nine members of the ’08 Phillies World Series team still in baseball somewhere. Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, and you. Let’s take Hamels out of the mix since he’s young.


Who is going to be the last one still playing?

     Well, that’s not fair. That’s not fair.

But most of you are about the same age!

     That’s what I’m saying, (not Cole), everyone else is on their way out. [Laughs]

It’s like Survivor.

     Right? It really is.

Well, Blanton and Madson were both already out and came back.

     Yeah, so I don’t know if you can even count them, because they already had their out, so let’s eliminate those two.

They already retired, once, sure. Then of the other seven?

    Wow. Wow. Me.


     I’ll be the last.

You’re going to outlast Chase? You’re going to have to drag him off the field, aren’t you?

     Yeah. He probably will. But I still gotta go with me.

Of those same guys, who’s the most likely to stick around baseball? As a, broadcaster, a coach. Do you want to do that?

     I don’t think so. Definitely not coaching. Probably something on TV. But Shane, Shane is a guy that loves to talk. Ryan, you know him, he can quote any movie out there and he speaks well. People tell me I do well.

You worked for FOX, what, two postseasons ago?

     (In) 2013. I’ve done one world series and one playoffs. Chase, no, I don’t see Chase doing that.

Coach maybe? But with you guys, not sure what appeal is, with modern players.

     Yeah, it’s a little different than it used to be, one, because you’re making enough money when you play. And if you’re coming back to coach, it’s to be a manager. You’re not coming back for anything other than the possibility of managing. So I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t see anybody with that makeup of coming back. But a year or two after the game, I’ve talked to retired players. They start missing it. You can only golf and fish and do that so much.

Yeah, easy to say this at age 37, but at age 43 it might be different.

     Exactly. Exactly. But do I see it? No. But you never know.

You’ve only played with three teams…

     In great cities.

No doubt.

     And with great lefties, too.

Well, that’s what I was just about to say, the pitchers. Clayton Kershaw. Zack Greinke. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee. Chris Sale.

     Pretty good.

How would you rank them? Or let me say this - if you had to win one game in a World Series, who are you giving the ball to?




Because you saw him do it?


Makes sense. You just missed him last week (when White Sox hosted the Texas Rangers in Chicago), didn’t you?

     Yep. He wanted to face me, and I’m like, “Nope.” He said, “I was really looking forward to facing you.” And I was like, “I wasn’t.” [Laughs.] I was like, "You’re 10-0 in your last 14 games. Do I want to face you? Nope." But, yeah, Cole, though, for sure.

Did you see his no-hitter last year?

     The end, the last inning. I saw the Immaculate Overran Catch.

(Odubel Herrera) is hilarious.

     We were going in and out (during batting practice) but I actually go to see the last inning.

What did you just call that?

     The Immaculate Overran Catch. Overrun the ball, catch it in the back.

To be fair, he was a second baseman before last year.

     Was he?

Yeah, I think that’s why Texas left him unprotected, an infielder lost in shuffle, maybe wasn’t a great infielder.

     Just an extra guy. Well, shoot, he’s doing his thing over there. How’s the guy they have playing left field?

They have a bunch of guys, no one permanent. Nick Williams will eventually be in there somewhere, he came over in the Hamels trade. They got four pretty good prospects in that trade.

     Oh, they did a pretty good job with their trades overall.

The Ken Giles trade – they may have fleeced Houston.

     It’s funny, with a lot of stuff, (general managers) do things for the future instead of for now. You always have to weigh that out. But, sometimes you have to go for now. And sometimes you have to go for the future. And they did it for the future. And it looks like it’s going to work out pretty good. You never know. It’s a delicate line to walk.

 "It’s tough, but (general managers) a lot of times that make the trades, make the drafts, a lot of times they aren’t there to get all the credit."

Right. When do you decide?

     But what they did, with Cole, getting guys for me. What did they do for Chase?

Well, he was coming off the DL, in the last year of his contract. They got Darnell Sweeney and a minor league pitcher (John Richy).

     Yeah, Sweeney. He’s a good little player.

He’s got some pop.

     And some speed, an infielder. So, overall they’ve put some guys – previously they were going for the now and they were able to put guys back in (the farm system). It’s tough, but (general managers) a lot of times that make the trades, make the drafts, a lot of times they aren’t there to get all the credit.

Like Ed Wade.

     Ed Wade did great job. He had it set up for the future he just couldn’t …

…get you guys over the top. But he didn’t mortgage farm, either. I read once he could have traded Utley and Madson for one of the A’s pitchers, Mulder or Hudson. Ed Wade didn’t do it. Pretty good trade not to make.

     That’s one hell of a trade.

Do you keep up with Phillies?

     Not really. Last time I saw them, (they showed on TV) that they were 10-10. I saw they won last night, 3-0. That was the final, right?

Yeah, they got to (Jonathan) Papelbon again.

     Was it in the ninth?

Yeah, he came in with bases loaded no one out. (Cameron) Rupp hit a double off Harper’s head. Harper misplayed it. But run scores either way. 


They’ve been playing well. Good young pitching.

     Yeah, Pete (Mackanin) said they were going to be better than people think, and so far they have been. They’ve been playing some competitive ball games. And that’s all you can ask for, keep it interesting. For the fans, but also for the players. They can come in there every day knowing they have a shot. Right now they’re doing that, so they’re good.

What do you know about (Phillies ownership partner) John Middleton? He’s been front and center in the last year.

     He’s going to do his best. We know that much. He’ll spend whatever money he needs to as long as they let him.

He’s put himself out there more since the front office changes, and from an ownership group that hasn’t been. And there have at least been reports he was trying to get majority stake.

     He definitely wants to be the new (George) Steinbrenner of baseball. He wants to build a team. Hey, if there’s an outfielder you want me to go get, let me know. Because they have the money. It’s not like they don’t have the money.

"They’re actually in better position sooner than I think a lot of people would have thought," Rollins on the progress of the Phillies rebuild.

Howard’s contract comes off the books after this year. Ruiz, too.

     It doesn’t matter who they have on the books. [Laughs]

But that’s what I’m saying, they’ll have even more to spend, a clean slate. So, (Bryce) Harper? (Mike) Trout? Go get them both.

     They can. They have enough (money). They’re actually in better position sooner than I think a lot of people would have thought. And I mean sooner, the last winning season was 2011.

Again, it’s easy to lose track of years. But, most fans probably don’t think they’ll be completive until 2020 or 2022.

     Right? [Laughs] But no, they’ll probably be better before that. They could be peaking at that point. Like they’re on that run like we were.

Right, that could be their (version of) 2010.

     Exactly. Exactly. So they could have two to three years of playing really good baseball, competitive, playoff-type baseball before then. With the guys getting their time in, establishing who they are. And you get tired of that time of just going home.

J.P. Crawford (the guy many think is the next great Phillies shortstop) is at Double-A. Ever talk to him, at least since he was drafted?

     I talked to him when he got drafted but that was pretty much it. Then I was gone. I know he’s supposed to be real good. (Larry) Bowa said he’s supposed to be real good. He likes him.

How are your kids (two girls) doing?

     Good. I’ve got a third one on the way in June.

You’re oldest is … 3-years-old?

     She’ll be four on the 20th of May. The baby just turned two. And the newborn coming in June. April, May and June.

How’s that, chasing little ones around?

     It just is. [Smiles]

Everyone in Chicago?

     They’re here (in Baltimore) now, but yes, everybody is in Chicago. We left about a week before we did just to get the girls set up in school and everything. Yeah, everybody is rocking and rolling.

Jimmy Rollins and the Chicago White Sox visit Citizens Bank Park for two games in September, the 20th and 21st, marking Rollins' second time back since being traded.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21