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Chase Utley says Jimmy Rollins ‘no doubt’ belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Rollins’ biggest hurdle could be the statistic that should help Utley when his Hall case is first considered in two years.

The double-play combination of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will be forever linked in Phillies lore.
The double-play combination of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley will be forever linked in Phillies lore.Read moreRon Cortes

It was probably on the first day of his first spring training, Chase Utley said, that he first met Jimmy Rollins. Or maybe it was the summer before when Utley stopped by Veterans Stadium after being drafted in 2000 by the Phillies.

“Actually, I don’t recall the first time,” Utley said with a laugh. “That’s a long time ago.”

Utley and Rollins played so many games together — more than any double-play tandem in National League history — that it’s hard to imagine a time when they were strangers.

They broke into the big leagues three years apart, helped bring the Phillies back to relevancy, and then delivered the city’s first championship in 25 years as key players in one of the team’s greatest eras. They had two of the finest careers in franchise history and they’ll be forever linked.

Utley may not remember when he first met Rollins, but he does know where he stands on Rollins’ legacy.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” Utley said.

The results of Rollins’ first year on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot will be announced Tuesday night. He’s not expected to reach the threshold needed for election — 75% of the ballots by the Baseball Writers Association of America — but is trending toward the 5% needed to remain on the ballot for another year.

Reaching that threshold is critical as another year could allow Rollins’ case to resonate with more voters. Former Phillies Scott Rolen and Billy Wagner have seen their candidacies gain momentum this year after sticking on the ballot.

Rollins won an MVP Award, four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and made three All-Star teams. He has the most hits in Phillies history and has the highest fielding percentage (.983) among NL shortstops who played at least 1,000 games between 2000 and 2014.

From 2001 to 2013, Rollins ranked second in the NL in runs scored, first in hits, first in doubles, and third in extra-base hits. He is the only player in history with 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and 200 hits in a season.

“He played a tremendous shortstop,” Utley said. “He made it look extremely easy, which as you talk to guys who played shortstop over the years, it’s not as easy as he made it look. For him to have the ability to not only play defense but to be an offensive presence, whether it’s in the batter’s box or on the bases, he was a threat all over the place.”

Utley and Rollins started 1,200 games together as a double-play tandem, which trails only Detroit’s Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell for the most games started together by a shortstop and second baseman since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Trammell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018 by one of the Hall’s committees and Whitaker is considered one of the better players to not be in Cooperstown. Like Utley and Rollins, the Tigers’ double-play tandem had great careers, but their Hall-of-Fame cases were not shoo-ins.

“We played so many games together and looking back at it, we were pretty fortunate to play together on those teams,” Utley said. “Obviously, it was more than just Jimmy and I. We had a huge group of guys who contributed. It all comes back to wanting to be the best out there on the field, and I know Jimmy wanted that, as did I.”

Rollins’ biggest hurdle could be the statistic — Wins Above Replacement — that should help Utley when his case is first considered in two years.

Rollins’ career WAR (47.6) ranks only 25th among all shortstops. In the last 60 years, no shortstop has reached the Hall of Fame with a lower WAR. Utley’s career WAR (64.5) is 14th all-time among second basemen and better than nine Hall of Famers at the position. His WAR between 2005-2014 (59.7) is the second best among all players, trailing only Albert Pujols.

Since 1980, just one player — outfielder and designated hitter Harold Baines — has retired with a lower WAR than Rollins and entered Cooperstown. Rollins finished in the top 10 in WAR just once in his career and is well below the average WAR (67.5) for a Hall of Fame shortstop.

His lack of WAR could be countered by his durability as Rollins played in 95% of his team’s games between 2001 and 2009, racking up the third-highest total of games among shortstops during that stretch. He started all 162 games at shortstop in his MVP 2007 season.

“That’s huge because you don’t see that very often,” Utley said. “He wanted to be out there whether he was feeling great or not. Over the course of the season, there’s going to be plenty of days when you just don’t feel like you’re bringing a whole lot to the table, but he was still ready to post on a daily basis. That’s something that all players should look up to.”

A friendship that started on the back fields in Clearwater, Fla. — or maybe it was around the batting cage of Veterans Stadium — could eventually find its way to Cooperstown, N.Y. They were two of the catalysts for the last great era in franchise history and it’s hard to tell their stories without mentioning the other. One day, that story could be etched onto bronze plaques.

“We definitely have a little bit of different personalities, but we both have the same goal in mind and that’s to be the best baseball player we could personally be,” Utley said. “We pushed each other in the right direction. I had my head down focused on whatever I needed to do. Jimmy had his head up with a big smile on his face but still focused on what he needed to do.

“We would always joke with each other and he would suggest for me to smile a little bit more and I would suggest for him to keep his head down a little bit more. It was a good banter and back-and-forth between the two of us. We pushed each other to be better.”