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:

Cr# Gm# Date Series Gm# Batter Tm Opp Pitcher Score Inn RoB Out
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
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/15/2014.

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.

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24 comments

  1. Derek

    June 16, 2014 10:06 AM

    This is how I felt when I saw Jimmy surpass MJS: I may have complained about his lack of hustle, his constant pop fly’s, his swinging for the fences when a walk or a single was just as good, but at that moment I realized how lucky we were to have Jimmy. Yes he’s not an all-time great, he won’t be elected to Cooperstown, but he was very f*cking good. Very good for a very long period of time. I need to appreciate and acknowledge this even though I may feel a bit cheated because he could have been so much better. It’s like complaining that I only found a $5 in my winter jacket a year later instead of a $20.

    When Jimmy retires after playing for a different team, and a few years later he comes back to have his number retired, I will give him a standing ovation. He’s definitely one of the best Phillies players of my generation…….but he’s no Chase Utley :)

    • Jordan

      June 16, 2014 10:55 AM

      “He could have been so much better”?
      Explain

      • Derek

        June 16, 2014 02:30 PM

        See my above comment. Basically I felt that his approach at the plate wasn’t as good as it could have been.

    • Richard

      June 16, 2014 10:55 AM

      Nice of you to acknowledge him, but your comment is full of the kind of unsupportable back-handed crap that Rollins has been up against his whole career.

      “…even though I may feel a bit cheated because he could have been so much better.” How can you or others be so sure he “could have been so much better”? Answer is you can’t. There is in fact literally zero reason for believing so.

      • Richard

        June 16, 2014 02:53 PM

        Right. I expected as such. You are quite wrong, of course.

        His power is a defining feature of why he has been as good as he is and a unique talent. Assuming that he could have sacrificed that important part of his game in favor of a higher enough OBP to compensate for the reduced power. You have no basis for making that assumption.

      • Derek

        June 16, 2014 02:30 PM

        He could have been better if his approach at the plate was better. He got power conscious and swung a lot for the fences. He came up to the plate and wanted to go yard, when as a lead off guy, he should have tried to get on base more. He never got above a .350 OBP in his 15 years.

        That’s what I mean by he could have been better.

      • Derek

        June 16, 2014 04:45 PM

        I respectfully disagree. If he were more patient in his at-bats, he wouldn’t necessarily lose some of his power. He would improve his OBP, but he could also hit for the same power. Instead of those infield pop-ups off of bad 0-0, 0-1 pitches, if he worked the count to a 2-0, 3-0, or 3-1 count he could (in theory) still get his home runs.

      • Derek

        June 16, 2014 09:42 PM

        Also, if I could add, he averaged say 15 HR’s per year (his 30 HR year was obviously the outlier). I would much rather have Jimmy sacrifice his power for a better OBP. What would be better for a leadoff guy, 5 extra home runs a year or trying to get on base much more to let proven hitters (Utley/Howard/Burrell etc.) drive you in.

      • dick_thon

        June 19, 2014 06:49 PM

        A borderline hall of famer and the all time hits leader for a 130 year old franchise and you’re bitching about how he could have been better?

        Philadelphia sports fans, ladies and gentlemen. Philadelphia sports fans…

      • hk

        June 22, 2014 07:53 AM

        “Instead of those infield pop-ups off of bad 0-0, 0-1 pitches, if he worked the count to a 2-0, 3-0, or 3-1 count he could (in theory) still get his home runs.”

        In his career, Jimmy’s OPS is .816 when he puts the first pitch into play. His OPS in all PA’s in which he’s behind 0 and 1 after the first pitch is .641. His OPS in all PA’s in which he’s ahead 1 and 0 after the first pitch is .857. Now, I don’t know how many times Jimmy swung at a first pitch that otherwise would have been a ball, but clearly, if he thought the first pitch was a strike, he was better off swinging at it than taking it.

    • dick

      June 16, 2014 10:06 PM

      a possible hall of famer and the all time hits leader for a 130 year old franchise…..and your harping on how he could have been better.

      ugh.

  2. CJ

    June 16, 2014 11:31 AM

    Rollins Memory: Phils were losing to the Mets in late 2007 or 2008. Ninth inning two outs, he hits a bases clearing triple that he manages to score on. Game over.

    For the life of me I can’t recall the exact game, but I remember the play. One of the most exciting endings in team history. Anyone who can name the game gets a gift certificate to Jack Lange.

  3. johnmatrix

    June 16, 2014 12:34 PM

    How about the play jimmy makes when the phillies clinched the division in 08. there were runners on, and that game could have easily been lost, but there was jimmy sliding on his knees. lidge may not have had a perfect save season.

  4. Duane

    June 16, 2014 01:24 PM

    My favorite Jimmy moment was 2007, last game of the season, at home, fan appreciation day. Jimmy was in lieu of being the second person THAT SEASON (Austin Jackson, as well) to have 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 homeruns, and he was sitting on 19 triples. And then it happened…….. and everyone went wild in the stands. It was pretty awesome and exciting.

  5. Paul

    June 16, 2014 01:27 PM

    I have a technical question. I hear a lot of comparisons to Larkin & Trammell when making a case for and against J-Roll’s HOF credentials. From an WAR perspective, Jimmy is not close to either player. But should we go deeper than that? Shouldn’t we look at the era these shortstops played in? I imagine if you placed Jimmy into the Trammell years for example he would have a higher WAR because he would be compared with weaker hitting short stops. Trammell conversely would be less special playing during the Rollins era. Sure, this becomes irrelevant if jimmy plays at a high level for several more years. But it’s great fodder.

    • Major Malfunction

      June 17, 2014 02:22 PM

      Among all-time SS, Trammel (11th) is almost double what JRo (34th) put up, 70.4 vs 43.3 WAR. Going by JAWS rating (7 year peak), Trammel is still 11th and JRo is 35th. The average HoF short stop is lifetime 66.7 and 54.7 JAWS.

      Sadly, I don’t see Rollins going into the HoF either by antiquated ol’school milestones or modern sabremetrics. He was certainly exciting to watch, but that lifetime .268/.325 AVG/OBP is simply not going to wow the voters.

    • Mike B.

      June 21, 2014 03:26 AM

      Exactly what I was thinking. I’ve bitched about him plenty over the years, but he is a special player and I’m glad I got to watch him do his thing in a Phils uniform.

  6. larry

    June 16, 2014 10:01 PM

    not sure of your definition of elite, but Rollins became the all time best philly shorstop somewhere near 2006. I would put him in “phillies elite” category around then.

  7. Tom

    June 17, 2014 09:24 AM

    Wow…tough crowd…never thought I’d see such an attack on a guy (derek) who actually gave rollins props… Raise your hand if you NEVER complained about Rollins? Give me a break…I may not agree with everything Derek said but come on…give the dude a break…I guess the only thing worse would have been if he said anything slightly negative about the most untouchable player in Philadelphia sports history…Cliff Lee

    • Brad Engler

      June 17, 2014 03:43 PM

      Watch your mouth about Cliff Lee, buster.

  8. glovesdroppa

    June 17, 2014 08:22 PM

    Jimmy is one of the greatest Phillies players ever, this accomplishment makes it so difficult to argue against him. YES he didn’t hustle on every single ground-out, but he hustled enough to get 100 triples and steal almost 500 bags. YES he swung for the fences and popped-up enough to give someone watching the game an aneurysm, but he played gold glove defense for a decade and is the franchise leader in hits.

    One thing people never really talk about is how Jimmy changed the culture of the entire team. Going into ’07 he made news for saying we were the team to beat in the division. The Phils had won 1 division title in over 20 years. He backed it up by winning the MVP that year and we won the division. We were the team to beat for 5 years after that.

    • Mike B.

      June 21, 2014 03:28 AM

      True. I believe he was the catalyst for all of that.

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