Jimmy Rollins is the man baseball doesn’t want around.
He represents old-school. The aging veteran who already had his glory, and is supposed to be gone, with only his memories hanging around.
But in today’s era where veterans are in their mid-20s, clubhouse conversation consists of Twitter characters, and PlayStation has replaced card games, the man they call J-Roll refuses to go home.
Rollins, 38, who has an MVP trophy and a World Series ring at home, along with four Gold Gloves and three All-Star Game appearances during his 16-year career, can be found these days in the San Francisco Giants’ camp, fighting for a job.
He’s on the field at 8 in the morning, taking ground balls and practicing flips at second base, with Giants coach Ron Wotus.
It’s 1 in the afternoon, and Rollins is at first base, working on his jumps with Giants base running coach Vince Coleman, the only man to steal 100 or more bases in three consecutive seasons.
It’s an hour later, and he’s sitting at a clubhouse table with Hall of Famer Willie Mays, getting razzed by arguably the greatest living ballplayer, while soaking in Mays’ advice on keeping his legs strong.
“This is heaven right here,’’ says Rollins, plopping exhaustedly in front of his locker. “There’s so much history here. I get the Willie treatment, and a chance to chop it up with him. They’ve even got coaches here that I used to play against.
“They see me, and they’re like, “You’re still around. That’s crazy.’ ’’
Rollins ran into Yankees legend Derek Jeter at a gym during the winter in Tampa, and even Jeter, 42, couldn’t help himself.
“Jete says, “You old.’’ Rollins recalls. “I said, “Hey, who’s talking? You’re older than me.’ ’’
Jeter: “Yeah, but I’m playing the game of life. You still playing baseball.’’
Rollins: “Ahhh, you got me right there.’’
Rollins is older than five general managers, and is within three years of age of nearly half of them. Rollins’ favorite shortstop to watch these days is Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians.
He just turned 23.
“Maybe I am old,’’ Rollins says. “Well, at least everybody keeps telling me that. When [Giants third baseman] Eduardo Nunez saw me the first day, he says, “Why you still playing? What are you, 43? You’ve been doing this forever.’ ’’
Rollins hopes to make forever last at least one more season.
“My goal is to make this team,’’ Rollins says. “If that fails, and somebody wants me, and it’s the right fit, yeah, I’ll go somewhere else.
“But I’ll be honest with you.
“I don’t have a Plan B.’’
Certainly, this isn’t about money. Rollins has earned nearly $100 million in his career, and will earn $1 million if he makes the team. It’s not about fame. He’s the Philadelphia Phillies’ all-time hits leader. And the only shortstops with more total bases in his career than Rollins are Cal Ripken Jr., Jeter, Robin Yount and Honus Wagner – three Hall of Famers and a future one.
It’s a matter of love for the game, and giving back, believing he can still make a difference.
Yes, even as a veteran.
“The game’s completely changed,’’ Rollins says. “When I came up, there were veterans everywhere. Teams wanted them in their clubhouse. But now, with this sabermetric and numbers part of the game, it’s about computers. You plug in numbers, and it spits out a player.
“It’s like you’re not wanted.’’
Rollins may be a fallen stock, but the Giants, whose clubhouse culture has been vital in their three World Series titles the last six years, see value. They actually wanted Rollins a year ago, but when the Chicago White Sox offered him a chance to be their starting shortstop until Tim Anderson was ready, he jumped on it.
It looked like a shrewd decision when the White Sox went 23-10, only to go into a free-fall in May, releasing Rollins a month later.
“We had no direction,’’ Rollins tells USA TODAY Sports. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been on a team with no direction. It was like if we win, we keep everybody. We lose, we’re dumping everybody. We didn’t know whether we were supposed to be good or are we supposed to be bad.
“It was like, “What are we doing?’’’
When Rollins was released, playing his last game on June 8 after hitting .221, one of the first phone calls he made was to Anderson, the White Sox rookie shortstop.
“I said, “Dude, it’s your turn now. Don’t feel bad for me. I was just holding this job until you got ready. You’re the future here, not me.’’’
The Giants reached out to Rollins after his release, but they wanted to send him to Class AAA, with no guarantee of a call-up. Rollins passed. The phone never rang all summer except for the folks at TBS, who hired him as a postseason analyst, working alongside Pedro Martinez and Gary Sheffield. Those long hours in the studio simply fueled his passion, and he let every team know he still wasn’t retired.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.