The word charismatic is often used when speaking about Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The diminutive dynamo, a mainstay of the Phillies since his major league debut on Sept. 17, 2000, has been a model of consistency for the last decade and his ebullient and effervescent spirit has rubbed off on many of his teammates, who look to Jimmy for guidance and leadership.
James Calvin Rollins was born on Nov. 27, 1978 in Oakland, California, to James and Gigi Rollins, both of who remain instrumental in Jimmy’s life, today. His dad, James, Sr. was a wrestler and weightlifter and also ran track.
His mom, Gigi, however, had a greater influence on Jimmy’s athleticism. Gigi was a star infielder on a women’s fast-pitch softball team and young Jimmy would tag along and learned the game and its intricacies from watching his mom play. Jimmy credits his mom for his becoming a “cerebral player,” as she always challenged him to think about strategy at her games.
To this day, many describe Rollins of possessing a near photographic memory of games, at bats and pitches, a trait that will no doubt serve him well beyond his playing career. Many are convinced that he’d make a fine coach and/or manager. Rollins can often be seen during games having conversations with manager Charlie Manuel discussing game situations and strategy.
In his four years at Encinal High School in Oakland, Jimmy stole 99 bases and batted .484, both school records, and despite his lack of height, scouts took notice.
Jimmy was drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft, but first the Phillies had to convince him to sign, since he had been offered a scholarship to play baseball at Arizona State University.
So impressive was Jimmy in his rookie season of 2001, that he earned a spot on the NL All-Star team, becoming the only Phillies representative at the game. Jimmy batted a solid .274 in his inaugural season, led the league with 46 stolen bases and 656 at bats, and also led the league with 12 triples.
He also displayed his durability as he appeared in 158 games, scored 97 runs, pounded out 180 hits which included 29 doubles, those afore-mentioned 12 triples, 14 home runs and 54 RBIs. Jimmy’s accomplishments included finishing third in the voting for NL Rookie of the Year.
In 2004, Rollins played in 154 games, the young veteran batted .289, scored 119 runs, had 190 hits, and his 43 doubles, league leading 12 triples, 14 home runs, 73 RBIs and 30 stolen bases marked his third “quadruple double” in just four major league seasons, that is, reaching double figures in four different offensive categories. Again, he finished with the second best fielding percentage in the NL at .986.
In 2005, he was even better. In 158 games, Jimmy batted .290, scored 115 runs, smacked 196 hits, had 38 doubles, 11 triples, 12 home runs, 54 RBIs and stole 41 bases, his fourth career quadruple double. He was named to his third All-Star Team, but it was how he closed out the year that was most remarkable.
Jimmy ended the year with a 36 game hitting-streak, during which he hit .379 with 19 doubles, 4 triples, three home runs, 22 RBIs, 35 runs and 15 stolen bases. It stood as the ninth longest hit-streak in major league history and the fourth longest in NL history and the longest ever by a full-time shortstop.
Rollins would go on to more success in 2006, batting .277, matching the 158 games played in ’05, scoring 127 runs, lashing out 191 hits, which included 45 doubles, 9 triples, a career high 25 home runs and a career high 83 RBIs, while stealing 36 bases.
Jimmy also became only the second player in major league history to have at least 40 doubles, 25 homers, 120 runs and 35 stolen bases in the same season. Alfonso Soriano accomplished the feat in 2002.
Jimmy also set single-season records for homers and runs scored by a Phillies shortstop. The year 2006, also marked the first time that two NL middle infielders would blast at least 25 home runs each (Chase Utley 32).
However, the Phillies were still finishing a distant second in their division to the New York Mets, so it was what Jimmy said before the 2007 season that forever changed the mentality and landscape of the NL’s Eastern Division.
In January of 2007, Jimmy Rollins would make a statement that received the attention of the national media, but especially in New York, where the major dailies never shied away from controversy. Since, Rollins was quoted differently dependent on which newspaper or sports talk host one happened to follow, I’ve decided to repeat the quote verbatim.
“The Mets had a chance to win the World Series last year. Last year is over," said Rollins. "I think we are the team to beat in the NL East, finally. But, that’s only on paper.” The New York media went absolutely bonkers, however, they always seemed to leave out the last sentence, “on paper.”
However, Jimmy Rollins had now put enormous pressure, not on his teammates, but on himself. Keep in mind that the Mets had won the division with relative ease. Never lacking in confidence, Jimmy accepted that challenge and never backed down. In 2007, the Phillies at one time trailed the Mets by seven games.
And then Jimmy Rollins truly stepped up. In one critical stretch from Aug. 26 through Aug. 31, Jimmy went 18-32, .563. In a four game sweep of the Mets during that time, Rollins hit home runs in back to back games.
On Sept. 25 against Atlanta, Jimmy hit a home run to complete a 30-30 season (homers and stolen bases). During the year, Rollins completed his fifth quadruple double. On the last day of the season, Jimmy became the seventh player in major league history to collect at least 20 stolen bases, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 home runs in the same season.
During that remarkable 2007 season, which marked the first of the Phillies four consecutive division titles, Jimmy played in all 162 games, led the league with 716 at bats, also led the NL with 139 runs scored, pounded out a career high 212 hits, which included 38 doubles, those 20 triples, 30 home runs, 94 RBIs and 41 stolen bases. For his efforts, Jimmy was named the MVP of the NL.
Although his contract runs out at the end of the 2011 season, one in which he is off to a productive and healthy start, Jimmy is not particularly looking forward to free agency. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “This is my home.”
Jimmy Rollins remains as one of the most engaging and pleasant characters in all of baseball. He is as apt to engage a 60 plus sportswriter with a few hip-hop lines and then drop into a conversation, which indicates his love of tradition, his love of the game and his worship of the great players who came before him.
This small man, who was raised in Alameda, a tough section on “the other side of the tracks,” is only small in size, not in stature. The Phillies are grateful that they listened to scout Bob Poole, who insisted that Rollins lack of height would not be a detriment.