Friday, August 29, 2014
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Jimmy Rollins and the subjectivity of history

How will Jimmy Rollins' story be written?

Jimmy Rollins and the subjectivity of history

(Matt Slocum/AP)
(Matt Slocum/AP)

They say that history is written by those who win, but the reality is more complicated than that. The very structure of the word suggests that all history is personal, and, therefore, that no history is universal. It is impossible to separate an individual's story from the circumstances in which they tell it: from where the place in which were raised, from the period in which they lived, from the end of the drone at which they stared.

It is one of the many uncomfortable truths one must acknowledge when working in a profession that requires the chronicling of these stories. As writers, we sometimes convince ourselves that impartiality is an objective we can reach via a strict adherence to the facts. Facts, after all, are inherently true or inherently false, and as long as we record only the facts that are true, the story that we tell cannot be false.

The problem arises when we consider the formal constraints of our narratives. Stories are inherently finite, which requires the inclusion of certain facts and the exclusion of others. But the moment assign values to facts, we sacrifice our claim to impartiality. David Murphy stole baseball cards from CVS when he was 10 years old. David Murphy engaged in a Twitter fight with John Gonzalez.

Both are facts, but do they tell a story? And, if they do, is that story The Story. And is The Story of David Murphy one about a thief who settled his beefs from a keyboard? It all depends on who is telling the story, or, as is the writer's burden, The Story. 

Right now, you might be thinking that my current story has me sitting in a hotel room in Denver holding a sliced open Mountain Dew bottle stuffed with dryer sheets as Maureen Dowd runs up and down the hallway quoting passages from Revelation. But I have a point. At least, I think I do.

The point is Jimmy Rollins, a guy who has fascinated me since I began covering the Phillies on a full-time basis in 2008. I enjoy Jimmy Rollins more than most athletes that I've covered, and I've made no secret of that. I do so because Rollins refuses to submit to the Tyranny of Story, to the insidious pressure to conform to the narratives that others wish to tell. In today's Daily News, Rich Hofmann tells his story of Rollins, and it's an excellent one to add to the anthology that will ultimately compose the shortstop's legacy.

One thought that I'd like to add:

On Wednesday night, Jimmy Rollins fouled a ball off of his foot, and he looked to be in a tremendous amount of pain. Even after hitting a single, he appeared to be hampered by the hot poker in his foot, walking slowly into his lead, and then back to first base, and then standing on the bag and talking to first base coach Juan Samuel with what looked to be a pained expression on his face.

But just when you thought Rollins' night was destined to be over, he took off for second base, getting an excellent jump off the afforementioned foot and sliding head first ahead of the throw from home. After popping up, Rollins noticed the third baseman, who was shifting against Ryan Howard, standing even with him. And so Rollins took off for third, beating the infielder in a foot race to the bag.

It was the kind of play that can burnish a player's legend, as long as it fits with the legend that the story-tellers wish to tell. I suspect that it will be forgotten. Maybe that is partially a product of my bias. Maybe it is partially a product of circumstance, that Rollins did not end up scoring on the play. The point is, when we tell stories, as impartial as we may fancy ourselves, our subjects are subject to both. 

Anyway, here's a list that I just looked up:

Most wins by starting shortstop, all-time

1. Derek Jeter 1,546
2. Omar Vizquel 1,352
3. Luis Aparicio 1,337
4. Ozzie Smith 1,253
5. Pee Wee Reese 1,224
6. Cal Ripken 1,148
7. Dave Concepcion 1,131
8. Larry Bowa 1,118
9. Alan Trammell 1,095
10. Bert Campaneris 1,092
11. Edgar Renteria 1,091
12. Barry Larkin 1,072
13. Jimmy Rollins 1,044

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