Don't Showboat, Jimmy Rollins, Steve Kline, Unwritten-Rules

As a Rookie, Rollins had Lessons to Learn

The Phillies picked up Jimmy Rollins’ option for 2011 Sunday, handing him $8.5 million to stick around for an extra year. Before he was an MVP, however, Rollins learned a hard lesson about the unwritten rules.

In the eighth inning of a May game against St. Louis during Rollins’ first spring as a big leaguer, the Cardinals brought in lefty Steve Kline to face him. The Phillies led 2-0, and it was Kline’s job to keep the deficit from escalating. It took him all of three pitches, however, before Rollins clubbed a two-run homer to double his team’s lead.

As he started off toward first, however, Rollins flipped his bat high into the air.

That was all it took to send Kline into a tizzy. As Rollins rounded the bases, the pitcher shadowed him with every step, screaming all the while. “I called him every name in the book, tried to get him to fight,” Kline told me. “He hit it pretty well, and I was upset about it. That’s what I was taught — not to be shown up. I don’t strike him out and fucking do a cartwheel on the mound.”

The pitcher stopped only when he reached Philadelphia third baseman Scott Rolen, who alleviated the situation by assuring him that members of the Phillies would take care of the situation internally.

“That’s fucking Little League shit,” said Kline after the game. “If you’re going to flip the bat, I’m going to flip your helmet next time. You’re a rookie, you respect this game for a while. . . . There’s a code. He should know better than that.”

That’s one part of the story. Kline recounted the details to me in 2007, six years after it happened. When asked if it was forgotten history by that point, the pitcher said coldly, “It’s not forgotten.”

Kline faced Rollins five more times after that at-bat, always in games closer than three runs; never once did he consider prioritizing personal revenge over potential victory. The pitcher retired a few months after we spoke, having gone unrequited in his on-field payback — which probably means that it’s still not forgotten.

As baseball sage Andy Van Slyke said of batter’s box showmanship, “You’re not making money to dance, you’re making money to hit home runs.”

– Jason