Jimmy Rollins Officially Joins the Phillies Elite
From Ed Abbaticchio to Jon Zuber, Baseball-Reference.com lists 1,804 players as having stepped to the plate for the Phillies since their inception in 1883 and Jimmy Rollins has officially outhit every single one of them. He has surpassed every mythical name from Phillies past and every childhood hero for those of us (un?)fortunate enough to be raised Phillies fans. From Delahanty to Ashburn to Schmidt, Rollins now stands alone.
Rollins had barely touched first base to secure his new title before he was asked about whether he would accept a trade. The Phillies drank champagne while people passionately ticked off the reasons why Rollins shouldn’t be elected to Cooperstown. And I would be shocked if as Chase Utley toasted his teammate of 11 years, there wasn’t someone somewhere still talking about how Jimmy is lazy and/or selfish.
I know that it’s likely Jimmy’s days in Philadelphia are numbered. I know that his Hall of Fame credentials are borderline at best. And I also know that no matter what happens there will be fans that actively reject and/or dismiss his greatness in the same way Abreu’s critics and Howard’s critics and, yes, even Utley’s critics live on. I also don’t care.
Jimmy debuted in September of 2000 at the tail end of a season which saw the Phillies lose 97 games. I had just begun high school and to any Phillies fans of my generation, the concept of the Phillies as a winning team was nothing more than fantasy and fuzzy childhood memories of 1993. Aside from that one magical season of the 90′s, all there was to get excited for while watching Phillies baseball that decade was Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Abreu, and an appreciation for the greatness of the game. To this day, my favorite childhood baseball memory is Schilling striking out 16 Yankees on Labor Day Weekend in 1997. I couldn’t imagine anything greater than my favorite team dominating the defending World Champions during a meaningless September game. The postseason was nothing more than a time to adopt another team (the Red Sox in my case) while my hometown heroes packed up and disappeared until Spring Training.
There are many different moments one can point to as the moment things changed for the better for the Phillies. Pat Burrell‘s Major League debut. The Jim Thome signing. The opening of Citizens Bank Park. Ryan Howard‘s Rookie of the Year campaign. But Rollins’ debut ranks right up there with them. There was, of course, no way to know at the time that the debuts of Burrell and Rollins in 2000 were merely the firsts in a string of players who would come up through the system and ultimately win a championship, but in retrospect, that 2000 season was quite clearly the beginning of a new and unequivocally better era for Phillies baseball.
During 2001, his first full season, 22-year-old Rollins made the All-Star team and led the league in stolen bases. He was everything that present day fans desperately seek. He was exciting and fun to watch; he represented hope; and, most importantly, he was a really, really good ballplayer.
In a piece last week, Jayson Stark did an outstanding job laying out the uniqueness of Jimmy Rollins’ career. The combination of power, speed, and first rate defense he has brought to the shortstop position over the past decade and a half is unparalleled. The debate over where Rollins ranks historically will last years, if not decades after he retires and I believe it’s best to judge a career after that career has concluded. That said, we already know that no matter how you slice it, 200+ homers, 400+ stolen bases, and 2000+ hits while playing a premium defensive position for one single franchise is an extraordinarily special career. The fact that he topped it off with multiple gold glove awards, a National League MVP award, and Philadelphia’s first World Series Championship in 28 years is just icing on the cake.
The most memorable game of Rollins’ career with the Phillies is his walk-off in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS. His walk-off double was one of just five postseason walk-off hits to come with two outs while the home was team losing. The complete list:
|1||1||1947-10-03||WS||4||Cookie Lavagetto||BRO||NYY||Bill Bevens||down 2-1||2B||b9||12-||2|
|2||1||1988-10-15||WS||1||Kirk Gibson||LAD||OAK||Dennis Eckersley||down 4-3||HR||b9||-2-||2|
|3||1||1992-10-14||NLCS||7||Francisco Cabrera||ATL||PIT||Stan Belinda||down 2-1||1B||b9||123||2|
|4||1||2003-10-03||NLDS||3||Ivan Rodriguez||FLA||SFG||Tim Worrell||down 3-2||1B||b11||123||2|
|5||1||2009-10-19||NLCS||4||Jimmy Rollins||PHI||LAD||Jonathan Broxton||down 4-3||2B||b9||12-||2|
It was an absolutely remarkable moment and I know I’m not alone in being able to close my eyes and recall with absolute clarity the flight of the ball to right-center field and the subsequent mobbing of Jimmy Rollins at third base. That one singular moment isn’t even close to what makes Rollins’ legacy special, though. Matt Stairs also had an unforgettable postseason at bat. So too did Geoff Jenkins. What sets Rollins apart is the sheer multitude of baseball moments in a Phillies uniform from the painful to the mundane to the phenomenal. In addition to the flashy double play that clinched the 2008 division title, it’s the flashy defensive play in a September game after the team had already been eliminated. In addition to the record breaking hit #2,235 on Saturday, it’s hit #249, a lead-off home run off Randy Johnson in a game the Phillies ultimately lost. And in addition to that walk-off NLCS double, it’s the game winning bases loaded double on September 21, 2002 when the Phillies were 20 games out of first place. Rollins’ legacy in Philadelphia is of course partly his high quality of play but it’s also quantity. It’s taking the field 2,000+ times, recording more hits than any player before him, and all of the good, bad, and incredible baseball moments to which he has contributed as a member of the Phillies.
During Rollins’ tenure, Phillies fans have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. We have raved about Jimmy Rollins to anyone who listened and we have cursed him over yet another infield fly. But more than that, we have been remarkably fortunate to be able to take his presence in the Phillies lineup for granted. Over the past 14 seasons, Jimmy Rollins has been the Phillies Opening Day shortstop every single year. The St. Louis Cardinals in that same stretch of time have used 9 different Opening Day shortstops and the Boston Red Sox have used 11. Perhaps the career overlap with future first ballot Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter, has caused some to overlook how truly remarkable the consistency, health, and exceptional level of play Rollins has provided has been. By the end of the season, Rollins could find himself among the Top 10 in games started as a shortstop over the past 100 years.
Whether he is in the final days of his Phillies career or not, it is auspicious that in a thoroughly frustrating season, Rollins delivered an otherwise ordinary 5th inning single which gave us a moment to pause and reflect. His place among the Phillies elite is now secure. His career, whenever it ends, will be as intimately linked with Phillies baseball history as the careers of Schmidt, Carlton, Roberts, and Klein. And that is most certainly something worth celebrating.