Back in 2008 and ’09, Jonathan Broxton was one of baseball’s most fearsome closers, with an emphasis on “fear”. Like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman now, Broxton comfortably sat in the high 90’s with his fastball, even reaching triple digits at times. For some reason, though, the Phillies were his Kryptonite. They had tagged him in the NLCS the previous season as Matt Stairs memorably hit a go-ahead two-run home run on a fastball over the middle of the plate. And, thanks to Jimmy Rollins, they got to him again in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS to move one win away from a second consecutive World Series appearance.
Questions like that are the very reason I write about baseball. There is a brilliant character in the movie Little Big League named Wally Jordan portrayed by John Gordon, a longtime Twins play-by-play announcer. Jordan is a hyperbolic depiction of a team’s radio broadcaster who spits out “statistics” during the game that one might expect to read in an article from The Onion. For example, Jordan declares across the radio waves, “Last year, though, he was 6th in the American League in hitting right-handers he was facing for the first time, after the seventh inning, at home. So that’s something to keep in mind.” I laughed, but at the heart of all good comedy lies truth and my truth is I love meaningless, inconsequential baseball trivia. I first started writing in hopes of finding a more receptive audience for Fun Facts I discovered than friends and family who began rolling their eyes any time I began a sentence with “Did you know…”
When the news that Jimmy Rollins was traded began to break on Wednesday night, I reacted emotionally. I watched highlights. I wrote this on the double play that clinched the 2008 division. I cried. When I realized I was approaching the point of wallowing, I attempted to begin the healing process by turning to one of my tried and true baseball activities, you guessed it, trivia. What began with one simple question, “Did anyone play with both Schmidt and Rollins?”, became the discovery of a smörgåsbord of Jimmy Rollins fun facts. Here is a collection of some of my favorites:
Sometimes a guy comes into the minors with high hopes and fails. Sometimes a guy comes in with little hope, or no hope at all, and fails. The successes are all rare, expectation or not. And careers like Jimmy Rollins‘…well…every year over 2,000 guys are drafted or sign internationally. Two win an MVP, like Jimmy did in 2007. He’s been the rarest of the rare. Continue reading…
Jimmy Rollins is my favorite player on my favorite team in the history of sports. I’ve watched him go from a name on a minor league roster to the MVP to the franchise leader in everything Mike Schmidt isn’t the franchise leader in. He’s grown up as a player as I’ve grown up as a fan, and a big reason why it’s so hard to let him go is that I don’t really remember what baseball was like before he was here.
His greatest moment came when he inaugurated the five best consecutive years in franchise history on January 23, 2007. On that day, he stood in front of the world and boldly proclaimed “I think we are the team to beat in the NL East — finally, but that’s only on paper.”
It’s the only quote by a Philadelphia athlete that I could find that has its own Wikipedia page. Search “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’ ” and you get the 1982-83 Sixers. “Practice?” gets you Allen Iverson. “For who, for what?” gets you a middle finger from your computer. “Team to Beat” gets you this.
And you know what? This is probably bullshit, but I feel like a Phillies player having the confidence, the stones to say something like that to the press meant something, that it demolished a mental obstacle to the Phillies actually playing in October.
As a fan, who’d witnessed a World Series trip at age six and despaired of ever seeing the Phillies in the playoffs again, that moment meant a lot to me. It’s when I started believing in what had actually been a very good team for several years. I’d made up my mind that the Phillies would never make the playoffs, that they’d come a game or two short, every year, and I’d be fine with it as long as they played spoiler to the Braves every now and again.
But Rollins dared to show confidence in the team and remained a vocal leader despite often being only the fifth- or sixth-best player on the roster. Chase Utley had the eight-win seasons, Shane Victorino got the big clutch hits, Ryan Howard hit the big home runs, and Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels each had their own sterling playoff moments. But Rollins shaped the character of that team and expanded our idea of what we might reasonably expect. Then he went out in 2007 and made good on that promise with the kind of season that makes people believe that maybe, just maybe, there’s something ineffable and magical about sports that can’t be quantified.
But the old cranks who are afraid of math are right–as we learn how something works, as its mysteries are revealed, we lose a little of our capacity to wonder. It’s fun to think that athletes are imbued with some special capacity that you can’t understand unless you witness it with your own eyes. I’m an empiricist and a rational thinker, except when Jimmy Rollins is involved, because after he declared the Phillies the team to beat, I will forever believe in his ability to do magic.
Rollins to Utley to Howard, double play!
We first heard those words broadcast over our television sets and car radios on May 15th, 2005. Fourth inning. Bases loaded. One out. Reds pitcher Elizardo Ramirez steps to the plate. Vicente Padilla on the mound. Rollins to Utley to Howard, double play!
Just three months ago, September 6th, 2014, we unknowingly heard those words for the final time. Bottom of the ninth. Phillies lead 3 to 1. One on. One out. Wilson Ramos at the dish for the Nationals. Jonathan Papelbon on the bump. Rollins to Utley to Howard, double play! Phils win!