As a rookie in 2001, Jimmy Rollins batted at or near the top of the Phillies’ order, which won him a place in an A-list batting practice group with Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, and Doug Glanville. And he never doubted he belonged among the lineup’s frontmen.
“Every time he put the bat on the ball, he was like, ‘Dude, did you see that backspin? Oooh, yeah. I was looking for that,’” Glanville recalled a couple of years ago. “I joked with Jimmy later that we should’ve had a promotional item called the ‘Jimmy Rollins Talking Bat.’ You get a hit and it would just go, ‘Oooh, did you see that? Oh my goodness! Wow, that was cool. I was looking for that pitch.’
“It was this youthful exuberance of just loving the game and just wanting to talk to someone about it. It was so infectious. We were so flat, and he came up and brought this jolt of energy.”
Indeed, Rollins’ arrival as the everyday shortstop coincided with the Phillies’ year-over-year 21-game improvement from 2000. It also began a stretch of 10 winning seasons in 11 years, including five consecutive National League East titles, back-to-back World Series runs, and the 2008 championship.
But then nobody denies J-Roll’s imprint on the franchise. His Hall of Fame candidacy isn’t as straightforward.
Phillies history can’t be authored without Rollins, and not just because he had more hits (2,306) than anyone who’s worn the uniform. He was a serial winner who helped change the culture of an organization and turn shiny, new Citizens Bank Park into the coolest spot in a football-crazed city. He’s a mortal lock for the team’s Wall of Fame. No. 11 should be retired in Ashburn Alley, too.
Not every franchise icon is a Hall of Famer, though. Think of Dale Murphy with the Braves. Or Dwight Evans with the Red Sox. Or Lou Whitaker with the Tigers. Or Don Mattingly and Bernie Williams with the Yankees. And it feels to this voter, at least for now, like that’s the club to which Rollins belongs.
Rollins’ case rests with traditional metrics and achievements. He’s 115th all-time in hits (2,455) and tied for 85th in runs (1,421). He was a three-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and the 2007 NL MVP after claiming the Phillies were “the team to beat” in the NL East and backing it up with 212 hits, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 home runs, 94 RBIs, and an .875 on-base plus slugging percentage. He played 19,513⅔ innings at shortstop, seventh all-time behind Derek Jeter, Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr., and Luke Appling. Only Vizquel isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
And here’s the most compelling stat: Rollins is among five players with at least 230 career homers and 470 stolen bases. Three are Hall of Famers (Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor); the other is Barry Bonds.
But the advanced metrics are unkind to Rollins. His OPS+, for instance, is 95 — or 5% below league average — compared to Molitor (122), Henderson (127), and Morgan (132). It isn’t a disqualifying number. Among Hall of Fame shortstops, Smith had an OPS+ of only 87. But he won 13 Gold Gloves. Barry Larkin’s OPS+ was 116; Jeter’s 115.
Rollins also gets dinged for his .324 career on-base percentage. His 47.6 wins above replacement rank 26th all-time among shortstops; the average WAR among Hall of Fame shortstops is 67.7. And although I covered Rollins during his best seasons (2006-09), they also represented a too-brief offensive peak. He had an .811 OPS (and 105 OPS+) from 2004-08, but a .702 (and 91) mark thereafter for a .743 overall OPS in a 17-year career.
There isn’t a measure for intangibles, and Rollins’ were evident to those of us who watched him play every day. He oozed confidence and had a swagger that transferred to teammates. He practically lived in the rival Mets’ heads in 2007 and delivered the biggest hit of the 2009 postseason run, a walk-off, two-run double against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in Game 4 of the NLCS.
Rollins had an undeniable “it” factor that, in time, may sway a few voters, including this one. Perhaps the best part of the Hall of Fame’s voting process is that it allows for shifting perspectives. If Rollins gets at least 5% of the vote, he will be on the ballot again next year. It’s going to be close. Based on industrious Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker (@NotMrTibbs on Twitter), Rollins is polling at 11.4% with 33.7% of roughly 400 ballots having been made public.
Seven names were checked on this ballot, my seventh since 2016: Bonds, Roger Clemens, David Ortiz, Rolen, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner. Ortiz was a first-time candidate; the others are holdovers from last year. My personal philosophy has been to reject players who were suspended after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, otherwise Manny Ramírez and Alex Rodríguez would have received checkmarks.
Rollins and Abreu, whose counting stats (2,470 hits, 288 homers, 400 steals) are as impressive as his sabermetric ones (.870 OPS, 128 OPS-plus, 60.2 WAR), merit further consideration. Same for Andruw Jones. And also Todd Helton, whose iconic status with the Rockies parallels Rollins’ here. The hope here is for them to stick around on the ballot to have their highly esteemed careers held up again for Cooperstown immortality.
Regardless, Rollins’ legacy as an immortal Phillie will always be extra special and unassailable.