Jimmy Rollins was one of the prominent Black players in baseball throughout the 2000s and 2010s. He played 15 seasons in Philadelphia from 2000 to 2014 before finishing his career with the Dodgers in 2015 and White Sox in 2016.
Rollins and co-host Ron Darling talked about how rookies are treated on this week’s episode of Audacy’s Unwritten: Behind Baseball’s Secret Rules podcast. The former shortstop got into how he supported young Black players, in particular, throughout his career.
“The number of Blacks in baseball were dwindling and dwindling and dwindling, but the Phillies always did a good job of keeping a lot of Blacks on the field in the major leagues and also in the minor leagues,” Rollins said (15:37 in player above).
“Some of these kids may not and did not make it to the big leagues, but every Spring Training I would send a message down to a number of the guys, especially the prospects – couldn’t get everyone –, and I would arrange a dinner at Roy’s Steakhouse in Tampa. It’s 15, 20 guys deep.
“We sat there and we had a conversation of one, what it’s like to be Black in professional baseball. Two, how you have to learn to make an adjustment ‘cause no one’s gonna adjust to you and no one’s gonna care, no one’s gonna care about your crying.
“But three, sticking together because no one’s gonna know the story or go through it unless they’re Black. So if there’s one other guy on the team, you have to be able to have a relationship. Even if you don’t go eat at Applebee’s afterwards. You have to be able to sit down in a room and converse because it gets heavy, especially when you’re playing in small-town cities throughout the South. There’s just things you have to go through and it’s like this place is still backwards in your opinion, especially when you get to the coastal cities.”
Rollins continued hosting the dinners year after year, and the number of attendees continued to grow.
“I’m like ‘Man, I’m glad I’m making a lot of money because this bill is getting expensive,’” he said. “But it was something that was necessary for us at the top to reach back down to the minors like we see you guys. You’re not forgotten. You’re not just some guy in a uniform that no one knows about. We see you.”
Rollins mentioned that it wasn’t just him giving guidance at these dinners, but fellow teammates Ryan Howard and even Shane Victorino as well. Howard and Rollins won back-to-back NL MVP Awards in 2006 and 2007.
“Whoever didn’t show up, that’s fine,” he continued. “They would miss out. And it wasn’t hard feelings, it was just like let’s just let them know what they missed so next time we make this phone call or next time we send a message down they don’t miss.”
Rollins wishes that he started those dinners earlier in his career, but he’s made quite the impact nonetheless.
“I wish I thought about it earlier, but it got to the point where I’m really on my feet as an established big-league player and it was like ‘These guys might not ever make it. Least I can do is get them a dinner and bring them in house and let them know what it’s like and just hear them out.”