Rolen, Eckstein back together again in Toronto
Originally Published: March 10, 2008By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
No matter what you've read or heard, they never wanted to leave St. Louis, a place where they won together. A place where they were once showered with sea-of-red adoration together. But stuff happens. And it sure did happen to them. So now here they are, bound for the left side of the infield in a city north of the border. Here they are, about to become the first two infielders to transplant themselves into some other team's infield, within two years of starting at least 80 games for a World Series champion, since Bill White and Dick Groat went from the Cardinals to the Phillies in 1966. Here they are, in their blue jerseys and blue caps -- not even a red sweatsock in sight. And it sure is fascinating that their new employers don't seem the least bit interested in the events that propelled them toward their awkward exits from St. Louis. "Those two guys exemplify what we want to be," Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi says. "That's why they're better fits for us. They're grinders, and they're dirtbags. Not that the guys we had before weren't. But that might be the one piece we were missing, from the standpoint of getting in there with the Red Sox and Yankees and just grinding it out from a day-to-day standpoint." "Just the style of these two guys is something we needed," manager John Gibbons says. "It's not like either of them are such great players that everything comes so easy to them; they're cruisers. They both get down and dirty. And teams that win always have their share of those guys. I think we needed more of that." Once, their old team said the same stuff about these two men. And it was all true. The fit was perfect, for both of them. They played on a 100-win team together in 2005. They played on a team that won the World Series in 2006. Eckstein was a World Series MVP. Rolen ripped off a 10-game postseason hitting streak. But then there was last season. A confusing season. That contract extension with Eckstein never did get done. The relationship between Rolen and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa devolved from dreadful to disastrous. Injuries helped nudge both of them toward the exit ramp. They had no idea when they pulled out of town in September that they'd be pulling into the same spring training camp this February. But neither of them spends a whole lot of time anymore peering into their rearview mirrors.
Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesScott Rolen, who's only hit 35 home runs over the last three seasons, isn't too eager to discuss his rift with former manager Tony La Russa.
"I'm very happy with the situation I'm in," Eckstein says."I'm excited to be here playing for the Toronto Blue Jays," Rolen says. "And I've come across nothing but good things and good people here." The echoes of Rolen's way-too-public, way-too-personal feud with La Russa still reverberate, of course, every time one of us pesky media inquisitors heads in his direction. But Rolen has zero interest in publicly rehashing any of it, or even in responding to the daggers La Russa hurled at him over the winter.
"I'm excited about this opportunity and this challenge," Rolen says, picking his words slowly, carefully, "because I'm excited about playing baseball. I'm excited about competing. I'm excited about competition on the field. Way too much energy got expended on off-the-field competition over the last couple of years. And that's not productive -- for me, for the team, for my teammates, for the fans. "There were some statements that probably begged for a response. And I've refrained from a response, out of respect for the game and, not to dramatize it, but out of respect for St. Louis baseball -- the city, the fans. That's not in the spirit of what drives baseball in St. Louis." He knows the world is watching him now, judging him, trying to figure out once and for all if he's the one who has been the troublemaker in these soap operas. Fine, says Rolen. He can handle that part. "I'm responsible for my actions," he says. "I'm accountable for my actions. And above all else, I have a responsibility and an accountability to be a good person and be good to my teammates. People are going to form their own opinions and their own judgments. I'm just trying to be as genuine as I possibly can." Full disclosure: I've known Rolen since he was 20 years old. I've known him since before he ever played a game in the major leagues. If you'd asked me then to gaze out over the horizon, he would have been the last player I ever would have figured on to have his career and reputation besmirched by high-profile pileups with two consecutive managers (Larry Bowa in Philadelphia, La Russa in St. Louis). This guy was too bright, too articulate, too well-rounded. Played baseball too hard. Exuded Hall of Fame talent. Yeah, he had a stubborn streak. But he should have been a manager's dream. So how did he ever wind up being viewed as two managers' biggest nightmares? If that's how people look at him now, "that's a concern to me," Rolen says. "I understand the perception and where it might come from. [But] I don't necessarily think we can draw parallels to these situations." The issue in Philadelphia, he says, was business. Well, mostly business. The Phillies tried to sign him to a seven-year extension. Those negotiations didn't go well. And everything about Rolen's situation in Philadelphia deteriorated from there. "There were surrounding things in there," Rolen says. "There were plenty of theatrics. But if we come to terms on a contract, do those theatrics or fireworks take place? I don't necessarily think they do. When the contract matter muddied itself, things went down the wrong path. We realized there was no future. And that made the present rather difficult for all involved."
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicDespite playing in only 117 games in 2007, David Eckstein hit a career-high .309.
|OLD VS. NEW|
|• Comparing the 2007 numbers of the Jays' former starting shortstop and third baseman with the 2008 tandem of David Eckstein and Scott Rolen:|
I think the best word to describe me as a baseball player right now is 'healthy.' I'm competitive. And I haven't felt this way in a few years.
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