Jimmy Rollins discusses how he got Black teammates ready for the bigs

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Rollins discusses how he got Black teammates ready for the bigs originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Jimmy Rollins is one of the greatest players in Phillies history. The team’s all-time hit king played 15 seasons in red pinstripes, winning the NL MVP in 2007 and anchoring the team through its most successful era in which it won five straight division titles and the World Series in 2008.

He seemed to always come through in a big spot for the team, and he helped the team quite a bit off the field as well.

Rollins was a guest on a podcast called Unwritten: Behind Baseball’s Secret Rules with Ron Darling, discussing the treatment of baseball rookies and if veterans help them acclimate to the bigs. Rollins talked about how he was treated as a young player, and what he did to help rookies, particularly young Black players, get accustomed to major league life.

“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.

“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… 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 because no one’s going to adjust to you and no one’s going to care, no one’s going to care about your crying.

“But three: sticking together because no one’s going to 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... 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. 

“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 added that along with mentoring young players like future MVP Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino and others, he would put them up in his house when they first got to the big leagues.

His only regret was that he didn’t begin the spring training dinner tradition earlier in his career.

“It was like, ‘These guys might not ever make it. The 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.’”