The Guarantee is one of professional sports' true gifts, a moment in which an athlete throws aside any pretense of humility and beats his chest like King Kong. It is haughty, outrageous and audacious, and its greatness comes in two forms: the triumph, in which the provocateur is proven right, and the train wreck, which is more often the result.
Two weeks into the 2007 season, Jimmy Rollins' tracks looked derailed. He spent the offseason yammering on about how his Philadelphia Phillies were the team to beat in the National League East. By proxy, the New York Mets, mighty with the bats and mightier in payroll, would not be. When the Phillies lost 10 of their first 13 games and languished with the worst record in baseball, Rollins had all the credibility of Miss Cleo.
And thus the stage was set for another grand sports moment: The Comeback. Turns out the Phillies weren't such a mess, and as the season progressed, Rollins didn't look so absurd. He kept hitting from gap to gap, causing havoc on the bases, playing Gold Glove-winning shortstop. And the Mets – those vaunted Mets who laughed at him, Little Jimmy Rollins, 5-foot-8 of pomposity – collapsed while the Phillies surged to the division title.
So when Rollins won the National League MVP award Tuesday, it wasn't as much because of his statistics, unique as they were, but that without his Guarantee and Comeback, he would have been a bit player behind last year's MVP, Ryan Howard, and his keystone partner, Chase Utley.
"It definitely would've played out differently," Rollins said. "I don't think people would've paid half as much attention as they did.
"We needed an edge to us. That was the point of me saying that. I guess I should've known it was going to happen. I thought it was going to stay in Philadelphia. It got around. And that put me out there."
Enough so that even though Rollins' power numbers paled to runner-up Matt Holliday's, his home runs to third-place Prince Fielder's and his star power to fourth place David Wright's, 16 of the 32 voters cast ballots with his name in first place. Because Rollins had affixed his reputation to the success of his team, and that added enough value in voters' eyes to overcome any numerical differences.
Of course, it wasn't like Rollins was some slug getting by on reputation. His 139 runs and 88 extra-base hits set records for shortstops. Everyone made such a big deal of Curtis Granderson's 20-20-20-20 – doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases. Well, Rollins went 35-20-30-40 and set career highs in batting average at .296 and slugging percentage at .531. And he set a major league record with 716 at-bats.
Still, Rollins didn't make the All-Star team, snubbed for J.J. Hardy, punishment, of sorts, for his prediction. Hardy, by the way, didn't garner a single MVP vote among the 320 cast.
And it was his Milwaukee Brewers' collapse that torpedoed Fielder's candidacy. Had the Brewers won the NL Central, Rollins might not be MVP. And had Utley not missed a month with a broken hand, Rollins admitted, "I wouldn't be talking to you guys today." And had the Mets not choked … and so on.
As it stood, Rollins outpointed Holliday 353-336, the 28-year-old over the 27-year-old, with a harem of youngsters behind them. Among the top 10, only Chipper Jones is older than 28. Fielder and 10th-place Hanley Ramirez are 23, Wright 24, Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and Albert Pujols 26, and Howard and Utley 28.
Though the NL is unquestionably the inferior league, it has an incredible collection of good, young talent, players just entering their primes who should be regulars on the MVP list.
Granted, entering this season, Rollins would have needed a fake ID to gain entry among the group. He was a nice player, sure, packing surprising pop for someone who looked like a member of the Lollipop Guild. And he played nice defense, yeah, but not to the caliber of an Omar Vizquel or Troy Tulowitzki (who, truth be told, should have won the Gold Glove this season). And he could run, but the last NL MVP to steal at least 40 bases was Barry Bonds in 1990.
So though the announcement wasn't a surprise, it did give Rollins one final chance to let everyone know how right he was.
"It's not any I-told-you-so," he said.
No. Rollins told us all he needed to before the season began. And that was plenty.