SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Jimmy Rollins and Philadelphia Fans

Dear Jimmy:

Face it, you goofed up.

Okay, so the fans started to expect miracles from you after your career year last year. You amazed in the field, at bat, on the bases, and you were the MVP in the National League. Perhaps they shouldn't have begun the favorable comparisons to Derek Jeter or Ozzie Smith. But perhaps you shouldn't have begun to believe in your own press clippings, either.

Because until you met up with Charlie Manuel, you were more or less a banjo plus hitter. A .260 hitters with little pop and little plate discipline, the type of guy who would kill a rally trying to hit the ball out instead of hitting it where they're not, which is what guys built like you more or less should try to do. Look at David Eckstein, for example. He doesn't have your talent, but he's won World Series rings with two teams and been a catalyst for both. Why? Because he maximized his talent and kept his work ethic, regardless of how well his team was faring.

Since you met up with Charlie Manuel, you became more patient at the plate. No longer are you the guy who swings at the first pitch after the opposing pitcher has walked two guys in a row. No longer are you the guy with too low an on-base percentage in the leadoff spot. You stepped up, big-time, and last year you put it all together -- in the field, at bat, and in the clubhouse. The Phillies were your team, you owned Philadelphia, and you were riding high.

And you deserved all the kudos you got.

And we still like you a great deal.

But you have to admit a few things about yourself and your team. Yes, you did have bad luck when you hurt your ankle at the beginning of the season, and the team compounded it by giving you what appeared to be questionable medical and rehab advice. Had you received better advice and treatment, you might not have missed about a month of the season.

But once you were back, you didn't display the leadership or verve you had last year. You loafed noticeably on a muffed pop fly against the Reds in June, and on occasion it didn't look like you were running as hard as you could on ground outs. Then Uncle Charlie benched you for a key game against the Mets because you got to the clubhouse late. Look, I'm not asking you to be Chase Utley, whose intensive preparation borders on making me wonder whether he has borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder (and also makes me wonders whether he's trying too hard). All I'm asking is that if you are the team's leader, you lead by example. Your enthusiasm is infectious, but your body language is different this year. You're not as positive as you were last year, and you should be one of the first guys in the clubhouse and one of the lead hustle guys on the team.

You don't owe that effort to the fans. You owe that to yourself and to the team at large. They're paying your salary, and they expect you to give a champion's effort every night you're in the lineup. And, yes, for the money you are making, nothing less.

Outstanding managers and leaders look for the following traits in their star performers -- a positive attitude, high energy and a track record of achievement. You haven't been as positive this year as last, your energy has come into question (or else why would you have had your manager -- whom everyone says is wonderful to play for -- have to talk to you about your hustle and timeliness on several occasions) and your numbers are down (and while we don't expect them to resemble last year's, we expect them to be better than this year's).

As for your comments about the fans, think about it. Yes, they're not the greatest group in the world, but they're far from the worst. They've treated Pat Burrell far worse than you, but he wants to stay in Philadelphia (at least from accounts I read earlier in the season). They're not that unfair, and they felt badly for you when you were hurt. But when stories surface about your attitude, effort and commitment, they'll get on you and let you know of their disappointment.

In your case, they're not being mean-spirited or unfair. It's just that perhaps, given some of your mistakes this year, they might be upset because perhaps they feel that they want a title more than you do. They're still pulling for you -- despite their voiced disappointment -- but remember, they weren't the ones who didn't hustle and they weren't the ones who showed up late and got benched as a result. Take away those well-publicized stories, and the cascades of disappointment sent your way wouldn't have come about.

And there's one way to settle your disappointment with the fans.

Go out there and show 'em that they're wrong. Show 'em that you're the same guy as last year -- the guy who picked everyone up, the guy who got the key hit, and the guy who was on a roll in the last two months and led the team's propulsion past the Mets and to its first post-season berth in 15 years.

You owe it to the people paying your salary.

You probably even owe that level of effort to the fans.

Most importantly, you owe that level of effort to yourself.

Always rooting for the Phillies even in the worst of times, I remain in your corner, even when you err -- on the field and off.

Sincerely,

SportsProf

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

J-Roll is right. Philly fans are front-runners. Look at how Pat Burrell has gone from all-time bum to folk hero this year.

People just think they sound smarter when they are negative. It's easier to defend the position that a team or individual is bad. If you are right, you can say "I told you so." If you are wrong, just shrug and enjoy the good performance.

Philly fans are knowledgeable, no doubt. But there are plenty of cities with knowledgeable fans who are not insufferably negative -- St. Louis Cardinals fans,for example.

Living in Philly, I root for the local teams (except the 76ers, since NBA basketball is a complete waste oif time). But I won't let anyone call me a Philadelphia fan. What an insult.

10:36 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

I think that certain fans in certain cities are more polite and, yes, more appreciative. But I think you're absolutely wrong to say that they're front-runners. If you believe that, then why is attendance so good for the Eagles and the Phillies, where it's clear that management won't do the extra that it takes to win a title. Fans in other cities, instead of showing up, would have bailed on the team and voted with their feet. Not in Philadelphia. Ditto with the Flyers, whose physical style of play has become outmoded. The fans stick with them despite their front office's apparent unwillingness to switch to a speed game. The bottom line: the fans are loyal, have high expectations and, yes, still come (even to the 76ers games, albeit with one of the worst attendance records in the NBA in recent years).

As for J-Roll, perhaps he'd have more credence if he hustled more and led by example more this year. Sorry, but he's not on high ground here. If it were Chase Utley or Ryan Howard, that would be a different story. And, as for Howard, lots of fans wanted him to get a long-term, huge bucks contract in the off-season despite projected numbers (according to the spot-on numbers crunchers at Baseball Prospectus) that so far haven't warranted the 8-year, $20 million per contract. Those fans were very loyal to Howard.

For a city that hasn't won a title in the four major sports in over 25years, ticket and merchandise sales belie arguments that the fans only root for winners.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rollins called the fans front-runners, and he was referring to their attitudes toward individual players, not necessarily the teams. He did not call them disloyal to the teams --no one would call them that -- but they certainly are willing to turn on the love or the hate for individual players.

You are right about Rollins dogging it this year. I have been to several games this seasion where he did not run out ground balls, none of which were times when his lack of effort made the newspapers.

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No intelligent blogger would argue the fact that Philly fans aren't front runners.

First, why do you think it was news that sporting goods stores had lines until the middle of the night for merchandise. BECAUSE NO ONE HAD ANY PHILLIES STUFF.

And as far as attendance goes, where were you from 1995 - 2003 when no one was at The Vet. NO ONE. Even when the new CBP opened attendance what not spectacular. Also, don't forget about the empty arena for the Sixers and the fact that we have a D1 college football team in town that no one pays attention to and a bunch of college basketball teams that are barely on the radar unless they are in the top 10.

Second, even if you use attendance as a sign that the fan are not front runners, (not true and a flawed argument), that isn't what Jimmy was talking about when he talked about them being front runners. Being a front runner means that when the team is doing good, fans say "we won" or "our guys are great this year". When they are doing bad, the same fans say "they stink" or "he's terrible". That is being a front runner and that is the way most Eagles fans are and that is what Rollins is talking about.

I think you are way off base on this one, "Prof".

12:54 PM  
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