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On Baseball: New Blue Jay Rolen puts Cardinals behind him

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Time and Tony La Russa heal all wounds. Scott Rolen would have waived his no-trade clause to return to Philadelphia had the chance presented itself this winter.

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Time and Tony La Russa heal all wounds.

Scott Rolen would have waived his no-trade clause to return to Philadelphia had the chance presented itself this winter.

That's how intense his desire was to get away from the St. Louis Cardinals' manager.

"Yes," the Toronto Blue Jays' new third baseman said after a workout Friday. "I would have accepted."

As recently as the 2006 World Series, Rolen indicated he would not return to the Phillies if a trade was proposed. But after his relationship with La Russa went from bad to irreconcilable in 2007, Rolen considered any and all landing spots, even the one where things ended so badly for him in 2002.

"I knew the Cardinals were doing their due diligence trying to trade me," Rolen said. "I knew the situation [in Philadelphia] and thought it might be a fit. I would have been open to the possibility, but it never presented itself.

"I was presented with a chance to go to Toronto, and I accepted it. In the end, I'm very happy to be a Blue Jay."

The Phillies spent the winter trying to upgrade at third base. They made an unsuccessful run at Mike Lowell before signing Pedro Feliz a few weeks ago.

Phillies officials knew St. Louis was trying to move Rolen, a seven-time Gold Glover who turns 33 in April.

"We talked about him internally," said assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, who, as scouting director, drafted Rolen in 1993. "We have discussions about any player we feel would improve the club."

The Phillies never discussed a Rolen deal directly with the Cardinals. It had nothing to do with Rolen's bitter parting with the club. Rather, the Phils were concerned about his surgically repaired left shoulder and how it would hold up over the remaining three years (and $36 million) of his contract.

"We felt if he came in and played well, all that other stuff would be water under the bridge," Arbuckle said. "But if we guessed wrong on the shoulder, we didn't think we'd be in a position to absorb another injury that would limit our flexibility to fill other needs."

Once upon a time, Rolen thought he had found baseball heaven in St. Louis. He was traded there in July 2002. His relationship with Phillies management had fallen apart after he criticized the team's commitment to winning. He also sparred with manager Larry Bowa and heard plenty of boos from fans.

Rolen received an eight-year, $90 million contract from the Cardinals and got to two World Series - winning one - before his relationship with La Russa soured. The dispute started over the team's handling of the shoulder injury, which required three surgeries, and reached a boiling point when La Russa called out Rolen during a news conference at the winter meetings.

Rolen's commitment and professional approach to playing the game have never been questioned, but after two highly visible disputes with managers, it's legitimate to wonder if he has a problem getting along with people, particularly those in authority.

"Fair question," Rolen said. "I've thought about people thinking that. I'm the common denominator in both situations. I'm smart enough to see that.

"All I'll say is there is more to the stories. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a side. I have a side, too."

Rolen's new manager is John Gibbons, who has had well-publicized dustups with Blue Jays players Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand in recent years. Needless to say, the baseball world is eager to see how Gibbons and Rolen get along.

After being traded to St. Louis, Rolen was booed every time he returned to Philadelphia. Though some of it has subsided in recent years, he said that the booing was painful and that he still doesn't fully understand it. He believes he was an ally of the fans, leaning on management to spend more money to make the team competitive.

Though the Phillies haven't won a playoff game since the year he was drafted, Rolen is impressed with the strides the organization has made.

"Things look very different now, and from talking to guys on the inside, it is," he said.

"I had some tremendous years there. I know the end got ugly, and it was best for everyone to move on. But there's still part of that town in me. I feel like I earned my stripes there, that I learned to play there. It was a hard-nosed place. You don't run balls out there, you don't make it back to the dugout. I was taught to respect the game in Philadelphia."

Rolen said when he came to the majors in 1996, he envisioned playing his entire career in Philadelphia. When he joined the Cardinals, he envisioned playing the rest of his career in St. Louis.

Now his sometimes-tumultuous career path has taken him to Toronto.

"It's a fresh start," he said. "New league. New division. New country. Can you get any fresher than that?"