I had the pleasure of playing with Jimmy Rollins and Ryne Sandberg. I was the bridge between the end of Ryno's career and the beginning of Rollins'. Baseball generations change quickly. It seems as if there is a new culture every five years, and it is always a challenge when one generation has to adapt to another.
This week, Sandberg, the Phillies' manager, held Rollins out of the lineup. Rollins appeared caught off guard, expecting to be penciled in the lineup even in spring training. The idea of losing his job in March probably never crossed his mind, especially given a career that includes an MVP trophy, three All-Star appearances and a World Series ring.
Yet Rollins is now the same age I was when I retired from baseball. He is no longer the young rising star I knew him as but the seasoned veteran with experience and a duty as a mentor.
Every time Sandberg did say something, it was witty and disarming. He would slip in a question in Spanish when you didn't even know he knew Spanish. In one game, I led off and had a good game against the Expos and Carlos Perez. I kept getting on base, and Sandberg kept driving me in. So, he pulled me aside and said "That a way, Glan, you get on, and I'll bust him!" I was just happy he knew my name and even happier he had given me a nickname. I didn't see it coming.
Rollins, on the other hand, did not stop talking. He came up to the majors as the new generation of rookie. There was no apology for his being in the big leagues. He was sure it was his time, sure it was his moment. When Sandberg came up, Bill Buckner greeted him with hard lessons of the game. When Rollins came up, it was his job to lose. He was ordained and appointed. Immediately, Rollins took the bull by the horns and demanded to be seen. I remember a teammate comparing the styles of Rollins and Scott Rolen. "Both are super-talented. Rolen just wants to do his job well and get out of the spotlight. But look at Jimmy, he can't wait to be a star!"
Rollins had a cousin who made him a theme song. He embraced the fans and the challenge of Philadelphia. His interviews were spoken in his native Oakland lingo, so phrases such as "sucker-free" were used and subtitles were often required. You were compelled to watch Rollins, and you just had to smile because it was clear that he loved the game, that he loved the fans.
He was literally bouncing on the bench in between at-bats -- explaining every pitch, every sequence. He was in constant motion, with hands that were golden from the first day he walked out on the field. You had to let Jimmy be Jimmy, let him be true to himself.
Sandberg came out of his shell in his development as a manager. He has expressed that the stress of being a player was tough and that he became liberated once he stopped having to perform every day on center stage. He was now able to pass on many of the lessons he learned along the way. When I spoke to him this offseason, he talked about how, growing up, it was important that he "listen." Once he had enough experience, then he could teach and talk.
Sandberg was told in the minor leagues that he needed to show more passion, to break his helmet once in a while. So one day he did just that, and he realized that he accomplished two things: He showed he could break a helmet, and he destroyed the one helmet he had for the season -- none of which led him to believe he was suddenly better equipped to beat the pitcher on the mound. Passion has nothing to do with anger.
En route to becoming the Phillies' manager, Sandberg paid his dues on the minor league managing and coaching circuits, learning how to trust his staff, learning how to be open to players who come from an entirely different generation.
Watching Sandberg let me know that you can be great and be quiet. Be humble and let your bat do the talking. That was important for my career and, as he explained to me this offseason, important for quieter players to know they will get understanding from him. He can see beyond the swagger.
One of the toughest adjustments to major league life is learning that everyone who has made it to the show earned the right to be there in his own way. In baseball, many different personalities can work in the same space, and, throughout a given season, each personality style will reveal its advantages and its disadvantages. Bad losing stretch? You need that patient statesman or that fire-you-up guy. Big game? Maybe you need that egomaniacal star or that cool-as-ice player.
It takes all types, and everyone will play a role, every single day.
So, when you put a strong, silent Hall of Famer in Sandberg with a loquacious World champ in Rollins, you can get a volatile cocktail with jalapeno slices on the rim, or you can get a blended drink you cannot put down because it covers everything your taste buds can dream of wanting. How it plays out depends on how well they both decide to communicate.
Rollins is now at the tail end of his career, the veteran who is trying to communicate and take the lead as the liaison to the manager. He is the bridge in the Phillies' clubhouse, connecting the old-school manager to the younger players, knowing that what he says and does now could be framed and blown up to epic proportions. How Rollins handles the benching matters because Philadelphia is Philadelphia.
Rollins isn't quiet and loves swagger, but he is respectful and understands legacy as he is trying to build one for himself. Rollins and Sandberg have spoken, and the ship will be back on course in short order. Now they can focus on the easier part: playing the game.