Jimmy Rollins was one of the most colorful players throughout his 17-year MLB career. He spent the first 15 of those years with the Phillies before finishing his career off with the Dodgers and White Sox.
Rollins was a premiere shortstop in the 2000s and he played the game with a distinct swagger. He played the game the J-Roll way. Given that, it may not be too surprising that the best advice he’d ever received came from Ken Griffey Jr., who certainly had a swagger of his own.
Jimmy Rollins shared with Ron Darling on the Audacy Original Podcast “Unwritten: Behind Baseball’s Secret Rules” the advice that Griffey Jr. gave him prior to being drafted that helped shape his baseball career.
“The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given, I’d have to say came from Ken Griffey Jr. when I was 17 and getting ready to go through the draft process,” Rollins said (36:40 in player above). “I was in the Seattle Dome, this is 1996, A-Rod had just come up so I was excited to see those guys. Buhner, Alex, Jr. obviously, Edgar Martinez, just being in the clubhouse around them and thinking ‘OK, this is it. This is what it’s all about. I can be here one day.’ Jr. came up to me and was like ‘Hey man, come here. Let me talk to you for a second,’” J-Roll said in his best Griffey Jr. impression. “I’m like ‘Yo, Ken Griffey Jr. wants to come talk to me? This is crazy!’ but I’m thinking like OK, they’re setting me up, obviously told him I’m coming in, which wasn’t the case. He saw me. Ken’s aware of everything.”
Griffey Jr. only spent two years in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut in 1989. He grew up in the baseball world and in MLB clubhouses with his dad, so he knew a thing or two.
“He said ‘You’re going to have guys that are going to tell you what to do and it’s for their glory. You’re going to have guys that tell you to try this, and then you look at the back of their baseball card this guy never made it past Double-A so how’s he going to tell you about what it’s like to be a big leaguer?’” Rollins said.
“And I’m just taking it all in like yeah, I didn’t think of this. And he’s like ‘No, you listen. When they’re there, you shake your head, you say yes. But when you play ball, you play your game. They brought you to this clubhouse for a reason. They like what you’re doing. All you have to do is keep doing what you’re doing but get better at what you’re doing. Because if you fail doing someone else’s way, they’re going to walk away and say well I tried to work with this kid, and you will never be able to walk away saying I gave it all I had because how do you know? You gave it all they had. They had this idea of you. This is what you should be. This is who you are. Only you know who you are.’ And he ran out to the field.
“To this day I remember and I used to talk about all the time and still tell him thank you. He just laughs and calls me Lamont from ‘Sanford and Sons’ but it stuck with me and I share that same message with kids,” Rollins continued.
“Look, you’re going to have guys that never made it that had a lot of time on their hands to figure out why they haven’t made it and they have all these great ideas and they mean great, but at the end of the day you have to look in the mirror and say did I do it my way? Was my way not good enough? Because if you’re doing it someone else’s way continuously trying to make them happy to appease them, you will never give yourself a fair shot at your ability and letting that shine.”
Rollins stuck to playing his game throughout his illustrious MLB career. He was a four-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop, a three-time All-Star, won the NL MVP Award in 2007, and the World Series with the Phillies in 2008. And he did it all while playing his game.
“That’s so great because you can live with failing your way,” Darling said. “You can’t live with failing another way because you’ll think about that forever.”