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Appreciating Rollins

Posted by Eric Fisher On December 12

Fisher column logo2The Phillies have agreed to trade the best shortstop in franchise history to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The purpose here is not to bemoan the trading of Jimmy Rollins. It was time to dismantle the core of the 2008 World Series championship team. Actually, the change in direction was long overdue.

The purpose is to appreciate Rollins’ contribution to what is, arguably, the best era in franchise history.

Rollins was the straw that stirred the drink, if I may borrow the phrase most famously applied to Reggie Jackson. He provided the Phillies with their swagger, their bravado and much of their personality.

He boldly declared the Phillies “the team to beat” in 2007 – before they had won anything.

Rollins backed up his words by winning the National League MVP Award that season. He batted .296, blasted 30 home runs and produced 20 triples – all career highs. He also delivered Gold Glove defense every night at shortstop.

The numbers trailed off after that incredible seventh full season of Rollins’ career. The last seven years weren’t quite as impressive. The batting averages generally were in the .250 range. The home runs and RBI dropped by one-third to a half of his MVP totals. But he was still Jimmy Rollins.

Being Jimmy Rollins meant he played exceptional defense. He may have lost a step of range and a little velocity off his throws, but he remains a smooth defensive player.

Being Jimmy Rollins means he still provides some pop, hitting more home runs than you might think is possible from a 5-foot-8 shortstop in his thirties.

Being Jimmy Rollins also means refusing to change his approach at the plate. He was not the traditional leadoff hitter. He wasn’t patient enough to make the pitcher throw a lot of pitches. Consequently, he didn’t walk very often and his on-base percentage, which peaked at .349 in 2008, dropped into the lower .300s, even dipping down to .296 in 2009. Interestingly, Rollins’ career-best in walks was the 64 he accumulated this past season.

Being Jimmy Rollins also meant not running out the occasional ground ball or pop-up, enraging old school baseball aficionados like me. But the lapses in hustle didn’t outweigh the myriad of ways Rollins contributed to the Phillies’ rise to a championship-contending team.

Rollins’ contributions also included many that occurred off the field. He was a champion of charitable causes, ranging from organizations that fight disease to those that promote baseball in the inner city. Ron Opher, co-founder of PhillyPhanatics.com, offered a passionate tribute to Rollins for his community work on PhillyPhanatics.com’s Blog Talk Radio show after Rollins was named co-winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, given to players combining solid play on the field with contributions off the field.

On the field, Rollins has more hits (2,306) than any player in franchise history. But numbers don’t tell the complete story.

When Rollins made his Phillies debut on Sept. 17, 2000, the Phillies were awful. The team was limping toward a last-place finish under manager Terry Francona, who was fired at the end of the season. There were tens of thousands of empty seats in cavernous Veterans Stadium.

During Rollins’ tenure, the Phillies gradually got better. They became competitive under manager Larry Bowa, although they didn’t reach the playoffs until Charlie Manuel became manager.

As Rollins’ career progressed, reinforcements arrived, primarily through the farm system. Chase Utley. Ryan Howard. Cole Hamels.

Many stars contributed to the 2008 World Series championship, but it’s legitimate to argue that the Phillies wouldn’t have won that title without Rollins.

He provided the spark. He provided the energy. He provided the swagger.

Rollins is the best shortstop in Phillies history. The unanswered question is whether he belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

My answer is he does not. His numbers are borderline for the Hall of Fame. His numbers are better than some shortstops in the Hall of Fame, such as Yankees legend Phil Rizzuto, but they’re not better than former Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell, who hasn’t received more than 36.8 percent of the vote in Hall of Fame balloting.

The Hall of Fame is where the periodic lapses in hustle and the low on-base percentage are factors for me. I have a high standard for Hall of Fame induction, and I don’t believe Rollins is a Hall of Famer. I don’t deny, however, that he belongs in the conversation.

Whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame, there’s no denying Rollins has carved out an exalted place in Phillies history.

This franchise has two World Series championships in its history. One of them would not have occurred without Jimmy Rollins.

Was he perfect? Nobody is perfect. Instead of remembering Rollins for his flaws, we should be thankful for his contributions and accomplishments, on and off the field.

Thank you for 14 seasons filled with wonderful moments.

Thank you for your contributions to the community.

Thank you for the World Series championship.

Thank you for being Jimmy Rollins.

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