J-Roll talks, the media listen
He's sure-handed when it comes to chatting up Leno or giving the right quote.
Jimmy Rollins doesn't demand the media spotlight. He really doesn't.
The Phillies shortstop will take it, but on his terms.
For instance, after Game 1 of the World Series, a media swarm gathered around his locker at Yankee Stadium, wanting to talk about his heady double-play - he caught a sinking bloop at ground-level - that smothered a Yankees threat in the Phils' 6-1 win.
That night, Rollins was the last Phillies player into the clubhouse, 50 minutes after the game. He had already showered and probably eaten. If their deadlines allowed it, reporters and camera crews waited, knowing that when Rollins arrived, he'd say something.
If the Phillies shortstop didn't turn up the heat on a subject, he'd at least shed some light.
In that way, more than any other Phillies player, Rollins has become a go-to guy for national media. It's also no coincidence that he is featured in Major League Baseball commercials during the postseason - the one where stars are also seen as youngsters. And that same engaging personality has led to a fistful of endorsement opportunities.
However, in Philly it's not always so obvious that Rollins has a fairly high national profile.
"Jimmy's on our short list of players that we want, players of that caliber that are willing to do stuff,'' said Carol Mayer, ESPN's manager of talent producers, who are in charge of booking guests.
Rollins didn't just randomly pop up on the Jay Leno Show earlier this week announcing that the Phillies would knock off the Yankees without much problem. Major League Baseball public-relations specialists had a vested interest in getting a player on national network TV before the World Series. That the Phillies polished off the Dodgers before the Yankees beat the Angels also was a factor.
"When we were talking about names, Rollins was one of the names that came up,'' said Matt Bourne of Major League Baseball's Business PR office. "The booker for Jay Leno said, 'He's got a great personality, he'd be one of the guys we'd love to get.' "
"He doesn't just give the straight answer,'' agreed Mayer, who booked Rollins on ESPN's SportsCenter the day after his Game 4 NLCS game-winning hit against the Dodgers. "He lets his personality shine through in the interview.''
When Rollins makes big and supposedly bold predictions that get a lot of attention, is it all premeditated?
The Phillies are the team to beat, not the Mets.
Of course, the Phillies will beat the Yankees, maybe in five.
Rollins was asked Thursday if he specifically plots to say things about New York to get headlines.
"I wish I was that smart,'' Rollins said. "No. They happen to ask the right questions at the right time, and I'll usually do my best to tell the truth about how I feel or what I'm thinking. For some reason, people like to write about it.''
Rollins is savvy, though. On a locker shelf right behind him at Yankee Stadium, within camera range, were two unopened cans of Red Bull and a Red Bull cap, facing out. Rollins happens to be the exclusive Major League Baseball endorser of the energy drink.
Ryan Howard, having completed his own round of interviews, noticed the product placement right away and yelled to Rollins, "What is this, NASCAR, Jimmy?"
Late last year, Red Bull had gone to Rollins' agents, the Beverly Hills Sports Council, which represents some heavyweight baseball players, such as Albert Pujols.
"They were looking for a player who was edgy and funny. They didn't come looking for Jimmy, we sold them on Jimmy,'' said Kimberly Crossett, executive director of athlete marketing for the agency, which also got Rollins an endorsement deal with a Web site, AFSBO.com (Anything For Sale By Owner).
"They were looking for someone comedic,'' Crossett said of the Internet endorsement deal. We took a look at our list of clients, we suggested Jimmy. He's hilarious, really off-the-cuff.''
So Rollins has become the officially endorsed edgy guy of Major League Baseball. Sometimes, the television shows go to him. But also, "I'm constantly pitching him,'' said Josh Goldberg, head of public relations for the Beverly Hills Sports Council agency.
None of it hurts the ballclub, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
"He's vocal,'' Manuel said. "So, therefore, in our locker room . . . and the way he plays the game - when he's really on top of his game - he definitely becomes a very good leader.''
The Rollins endorsement portfolio includes a Nike spot, and a SportsCenter commercial two years ago, which is certainly a measure of sports celebrity. Plus, he was national spokesman for Yahoo Fantasy Baseball in 2008, and he also did a funny Dick's Sporting Goods commercial. And finally, he showed his home on MTV's celebs-at-home show, Cribs.
Being on television in games every night portrays Rollins in a good light, too. Viewers don't know what he's saying, but he's always talking or flashing that knowing smile of his.
When cameras go to the Phillies dugout during games, you often see Rollins and manager Charlie Manuel jabbering at each other. It isn't necessarily about strategy.
"I love to talk to him,'' Manuel said, "because I'll tell you something, we have some really - I wouldn't call them real smart conversations, but we have some good conversations.''
As for that clubhouse wait after Game 1? For the media, it was worth it. Rollins explained that he really hadn't meant to catch the ball that started the double-play. He went through the play, his intent and his thoughts, and was funny doing it.
Even if Rollins is often unavailable to the beat writers who cover the team for sometimes days at a time, he probably gets the whole public-relations process as well as any specialist in the field.
When the Phillies took care of the Dodgers quickly, in five games, Rollins knew what that meant.
"Preview stories,'' he said. The ugh! was unspoken.
Yet, when the Yankees took care of the Angels and New York writers began working on their own preview stories, a lot of questions to Yanks players were about Rollins and his confident prediction on Leno.
None of that mattered once the games started, but the first round in the World Series PR war went to Rollins.
"He likes the mike,'' Manuel said. "He likes to talk, he likes to - that's kind of what he likes to do. He likes the attention, and he likes everything about that.''