Jimmy Rollins bats leadoff one more time for the Phillies
Rollins made 9,511 plate appearances in a Phillies uniform, 6,858 of which came while batting first in the lineup. He was the catalyst for the most successful stretch in the franchise's 132-year history, a critical sparkplug on the field and the clubhouse spokesman off it.
But the Jimmy Rollins era in Philadelphia officially ended on Friday when the trade sending him from the Phillies to the Dodgers became official.
Now, even in departure, Rollins is still leading the way — the first of several Phillies expected to be cast off in the name of rebuilding.
Rollins arrived in the major leagues in 2000 as a 21-year-old September call-up on a 97-loss team. The next year he led the NL in triples and steals and made the All-Star Game.
Over the next five seasons, Rollins made two more All-Star teams as the Phillies slowly assembled a cadre of homegrown talent that soon take the team to unprecedented heights. Second baseman Chase Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard and starting pitcher Cole Hamels all debuted between 2003 and '06 and would go on to make multiple All-Star teams while joining Rollins to form the backbone of the revitalized Phillies.
Before the 2007 season, Rollins famously declared the Phillies “the team to beat” in the NL East, even though they hadn’t made the playoffs since 1993 and had finished 12 games behind the Mets the year before.
Rollins backed up his boast, playing in all 162 games, slashing .296/.344/.531, hitting 30 home runs and stealing 41 bases. On the final day of the regular season, as Philadelphia overtook New York for the division crown, Rollins recorded his 20th triple to punctuate an MVP campaign.
Though the Phils were swept by the Rockies in the NLDS, Rollins returned the next spring with another bold proclamation, predicting that his team would win 100 games in 2008.
Philadelphia won the division again and had a chance to close out their first playoff series victory in 15 years in Game 4 of the NLDS in Milwaukee. Rollins led off that day with a home run and the Phillies never trailed, cruising to a 6-2 win. Then, in Game 5 of the NLCS in Los Angeles, Rollins hit another leadoff homer, and Philadelphia clinched the pennant.
The Phillies won 103 games that year, Rollins pointed out, if you include the 11 playoff victories it took to win the World Series.
Philadelphia won the next three NL East titles as well, but lost earlier each year in the postseason, falling in the World Series in 2009, the NLCS in '10 and the NLDS in '11. In all, the Phillies’ run from 2007-11 included five straight division titles, back-to-back National League pennants in '08 and '09 and the 2008 world championship, just the second in franchise history.
Rollins had plenty of individual success, too. He holds the franchise record with 2,306 hits. He’s one of just nine players in baseball history with 2,300 hits, 200 homers and 400 steals, and in 2007 he became one of only four men to collect 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in a single season. He won four Gold Gloves, in addition to those three All-Star Games and the ’07 MVP award.
But Rollins’ legacy is forever intertwined with his team’s success. For despite that MVP award the truth is that Rollins was rarely, if ever, even considered the best player on his team.
He also sometimes rubbed a faction of the fan base the wrong way, like when he spoke openly last March about how he would not waive his no-trade rights in large part because he wanted to pass Mike Schmidt's franchise record for hits.
And though he had great production out of the leadoff spot— he swiped 30+ bases in 10 seasons, and his 46 leadoff home runs are fourth in MLB history — many critics felt his walk rate and power numbers dictated he should hit elsewhere in the lineup.
Rollins also found himself in the manager’s doghouse on occasion for failing to run out groundballs. This added to the sometimes tumultuous relationship he had with many Phillies fans, some of whom would have rather seen Rollins leave town a few years ago.
But Rollins had as many passionate defenders as he had detractors. The fans loved him in September 2005, when he got a hit in 36 straight games to close out the season. They serenaded him with MVP chants throughout 2007’s stretch run. Citizens Bank Park exploded after his walk-off double in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS. And the fans cheered sincerely last June, when Rollins finally passed Schmidt in front of the home crowd.
As with many sports towns, fans in Philadelphia support players when they're winning and let them hear about it when they're not. And Rollins, like many of his more universally beloved teammates, did a lot of winning.
But the Phillies are no longer the force they were in Rollins’ prime. They’ve had three straight losing seasons and there won't be another parade down Broad Street anytime soon.
While Rollins had what was in some ways his best season in six years in 2014 -- his 3.9 WAR was his highest since 2008 -- the once-great team he helped lead had crumbled around him, saddled with too many big contracts for players on the downside of their careers. If the Phillies don’t make any more major moves, players like Howard, closer Jonathan Papelbon and lefty Cliff Lee will take up larger chunks of the payroll than they’re worth, and veterans like outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher Carlos Ruiz will take up at-bats that could be spent developing youth.
Even though Rollins wasn’t particularly high on the list of reasons the team fell apart, he also wasn’t terribly high on the list of reasons to think it might all turn around. The now-36-year-old has performed up to the expectations of his three-year, $33 million contract, but like many in the Phillies’ core his best days are behind him. Consequently, he was a logical trade chip to move.
Most people thought general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. should have started rebuilding years ago. But he didn’t, for reasons that have never been understood. This offseason, however, Amaro finally admitted it was time to start over. The only questions were who would go, and how much would they net in return.
And because players like Rollins, Utley and Hamels had no-trade rights, it seemed likely that one of the homegrown stars might have to agree to press the first detonator that would blow it all up.
Once again the Phillies stood at the threshold of a new era, needing to take the necessary first steps to push the franchise forward.
So of course Rollins led off that too.