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Rollins may not be MVP, but he leads NL in fun factor

Posted: Monday September 17, 2007 11:40AM; Updated: Monday September 17, 2007 2:51PM
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Jimmy Rollins
The outspoken Jimmy Rollins is having fun leading the Phillies to a late playoff surge.

Also in this column:
• Big Papi shatters myth
• Can A-Rod, Schilling co-exist?
• More news and notes

The National League MVP race is still up for grabs -- I have Prince Fielder, David Wright, Jimmy Rollins and Matt Holliday leading a group of perhaps 10 -- but I will hand out a somewhat less-known honor here now.

By far my Favorite Player of the Year (FPY) has to be Rollins, the tiny Phillies shortstop who talks big and plays even bigger.

Technically, Rollins may wind up being incorrect about his famous spring call that his Phillies are "the team to beat in the NL East'' as the Mets still hold an increasingly tenuous 3.5-game lead.

But while the Mets are still hanging on, let's not forget the Mets beat the Phillies by 12 games last season. And let's not also forget that the Phillies could very easily be in front this year if not for some devastating injuries.

Some might even say the Phillies (who only trail the Padres by 1 games in the wild-card race) deserve to be in front in their division. Rollins' Phillies have beaten the division leaders eight straight times. And Rollins has played a gigantic role in those games. As Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, Rollins is batting .346 against the Mets this year, with four doubles, two triples and six home runs -- much of that happening while being treated at Shea Stadium the way Philly fans treat their worst enemy.

What's more, the Phillies are right on the Mets' heels despite losing Freddy Garcia for basically the entire year, Tom Gordon for much of the year, and Chase Utley and Cole Hamels for significant stretches in the pennant drive.

One of the biggest reasons the Phillies are right there is one of the smallest guys in the league. As I interviewed Rollins at Shea Stadium on Sunday, I thought that he could just as easily be working a few miles to the east at Belmont Park. He is that tiny.

Yet the last thing he'd want is to be graded on a curve, to say his team is handicapped by its pain, and Rollins by his stature. No one -- no matter how big or small - has come up bigger than him this season. He has 27 home runs, 85 RBIs, 127 runs and 36 stolen bases. He has also played a superb shortstop. While speaking of the MVP, Rollins agreed that he "deserves it just as well as the other guys.''

Beyond the numbers, Rollins deserves kudos for being a leader, for stepping to the microphone (actually notepads, in this case) and for saying he believed in his team this spring. There's little doubt that Rollins' words inspired his team. Even Mets manager Willie Randolph admired Rollins' gumption. "I love it,''' Randolph said at the time.

Rollins doesn't worry about whether he'll look like a prophet or fool. That's just him.

"It's nothing,'' he said. "It doesn't bother me either way.

"It isn't about backing up anything. I just wanted our team to have a good year, whether I said it or not.''

They have. And he has had an even better season.

MVP takes: Rollins, Wright differ

The meaning of the MVP award sparks disagreement everywhere, anyway. So of course it's only natural that a Phillie and a Met who are contending for the honor should disagree. As Rollins said, "It's a great argument, a great debate.''

According to Rollins, the MVP should go to whomever plays the best and puts up the best numbers, no matter where that player's team finishes. Mets star David Wright said it should go to someone who pushed his team into the playoffs.

Sitting in opposing clubhouses, they didn't realize they were disagreeing. But they were. "Winning has something to do with it, but the question is: 'Did you do your job better than everyone else?''' Rollins said. "If someone's the best player, should they be penalized because thy were unlucky enough to be drafted by a bad team?''

With that in mind, Rollins said he already voted for Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez for "Most Outstanding Player'' in the Players' Choice awards, which are sponsored by the players union. Of course, there are those who'd point out there is a difference between "Most Valuable'' and "Most Outstanding.'' But Rollins insisted that his logic applies to the MVP, too.

Meanwhile, Wright said, "To me, the MVP is a guy on a team that makes a push in September. That's the way I've always looked at it -- a guy who helped his team get into the postseason, not just a guy putting up big numbers. There's a difference putting up numbers at crunch time, and putting up numbers just to put up numbers.''

Rollins, though, insists that individual numbers on also-ran teams still have meaning. And as far as the argument that players on contenders are facing much greater pressure, Rollins said, "There's pressure to perform, no matter who you're playing for.''

Here's my take: Rollins may be my favorite player at the moment, but as regular readers of this column know, I don't believe a player can truly be "most valuable'' if his great individual numbers don't lead to winning (as is the case with Ramirez), contention and preferably the playoffs.

Rollins is a generous guy. But I'd respectfully disagree. My top four choices of Fielder, Wright, Rollins and Holliday would be followed at the moment by a group of Ryan Braun, Alfonso Soriano, Utley, Albert Pujols and Jake Peavy. On my ballot (and no, I don't have an official vote this year), I'd save my 10th-place vote for Ramirez, whose stats may be the best of all.

King David

The prevailing belief about David Ortiz is that he needs Manny Ramirez hitting behind him to put up those hellacious numbers of his. But Ortiz has gone a long way toward shattering that myth by producing even more since Ramirez was lost to an oblique strain on Aug. 29. Since that day, with Mike Lowell often batting behind him, Ortiz has seven home runs, 18 RBIs and a .790 slugging percentage.

Around the Majors

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• The Red Sox would appear to need to re-sign Lowell, who's having a terrific season. That is, unless they can somehow get their mitts on Alex Rodriguez.

• Hey, if J.D. Drew and Curt Schilling can play nice after Schilling played management shill in Drew's contentious contract dispute with Philly, so can A-Rod and Schilling (and Schilling could be gone as a free agent, anyway).

• As for my fanciful winter proposal that Boston could possibly trade Drew to Philly for Pat Burrell, as a friend of mine pointed out regarding Drew and Philly: He might have become the first person to wear out his welcome before actually ever being welcomed.

Derek Jeter really isn't having one of his best years. But he remains one of the most clutch players ever. I know some stat people claim there's no such thing as a clutch hitter, and all I can say is they just haven't been paying enough attention.

• By the way, either Jeter and A-Rod are getting along better this season, or they are better actors than Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

• It was amusing to see ESPN build up Roger Clemens' start as perhaps his last one at Fenway Park. And I have to give credit to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan (as much as it pains me) not to take that hype too seriously. Although Morgan (no surprise) spoiled the refreshing realism by claiming that Clemens was sincerely touched by the Marlins' sendoff ovation in 2003. Yeah, sure. Something tells me the $28 million prorated he's getting this year touched him more.

Jim Thome's 500th home run -- a walkoff -- was a magical moment for an also-ran team. So even in their horrendous season the Chisox still had two great moments, including Mark Buehrle's no-no.

• Good luck to departing Twins GM Terry Ryan, a good man who shocked baseball by resigning. I believe him when he says the stress of the job was a factor in his decision to step aside. It couldn't be easy working for billionaire misers who made it extremely difficult to keep the star players. And by the way, the Twins never would have had so many great players if not for Ryan's keen judge of talent.