ST. PETERSBURG — Jimmy Rollins is a recording artist, a prognosticator, an MVP and a Gold Glove shortstop. He's not a champion. And that, he said, means his eight-year career has been, to this point, hollow.
But at 29, four wins from a World Series title after toiling for a Phillies team that has tantalized, teased and disappointed during his tenure, he thinks validation may be in the offing.
"You're second place if you don't win the World Series, and nobody remembers who came in second," he said. "It's the way it is."
Manager Charlie Manuel, who has had to bench Rollins for the occasional tardiness, still considers him a team leader beyond what he produces statistically. A stirrer-of-the-pot, a brash talent, he has fit in well in Philadelphia.
"His personality and the way that he goes about the game and how he feels about the game and what he brings to the table, I think that kind of makes him kind of a natural leader," he said.
Rollins earned the starting job as shortstop in 2001 and stole 46 bases as the Phillies finished second in the NL East. They finished second or third the next five seasons until capturing their first of consecutive division titles last season, when Rollins hit .296 with 30 home runs and 41 steals to win league MVP and a Gold Glove.
Rollins had riled the 2006 NL East champion Mets last preseason when he said, "The Mets had a chance to win the World Series last year. Last year is over. I think we are the team to beat in the NL East, finally. But, that's only on paper."
Philadelphia was steam-rolled by Colorado in the NL Division Series last year as Rollins hit .182. He is batting just .243 with three stolen bases this postseason, but numbers don't seem to concern him now. It's actions, he said.
"You can be a role player and play a key role in the biggest series or the biggest game of your life, to win a championship game — next season hit .250 or in basketball to score 10 points a game — but when that team needed you the most, you stepped up," he said. "You're always going to be known as a champion."
Rollins sees a template in Robert Horry, an NBA journeyman who has averaged seven points a game in a 16-year career and negligibly better in the playoffs but found himself on good teams and with the wherewithal to hit enough clutch shots in the postseason to win six championships.
" 'Big Shot Rob.' Perfect example," Rollins said. "Man, in the season he'll hit a shot here and there, but when the game's on the line, the ball's in his hand, he's got six rings now because of that? Pretty good career right there. Does that make him a Hall of Famer? Maybe not, but man, that makes him a winner. That's what you want to be known as."
Rollins is four games from being what he wants to be most.