The implosion of arguably the greatest core in Phillies history is going to start in a fitting place. James Calvin Rollins, the homegrown triggerman for a franchise that won five straight division titles and the 2008 World Series, was the first of the talented ensemble to arrive in the big leagues at the turn of the century, and, according to multiple reports, he will become the first to go when he is traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The deal was not official Wednesday night, but nothing more than formalities was holding it up.
Jimmy Rollins, 36, will not be the last fading star to be removed from the roster this offseason as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. attempts to inject a youth movement that he hopes represents the foundation for the next great era in Phillies history.
In return for Rollins, the Phillies reportedly will receive a couple of minor-league pitchers. Their names and numbers will matter a couple of months from now, when the Phillies get to spring training, but this day is about the man responsible for so many unforgettable moments during his 15 seasons in Philadelphia. Rollins was best known as J-Roll, a nickname that fit his flair for the game. He was a one-of-a-kind athlete in a city that has given us Wilt and Schmitty, The Doctor and Lefty, Concrete Charlie and Clarkie, A.I. and No. 5.
J-Roll need not take a backseat to any of the above.
He leaves the Phillies as the franchise's all-time leader in hits, doubles, and at-bats. His 38-game hitting streak that started at the end of the 2005 season and continued into the first two games of 2006 is the longest in franchise history. He is also among the top 10 in countless other offensive categories and will be counted among the best defensive shortstops in baseball history. His career .983 fielding percentage trails only those of Troy Tulowitzki and Omar Vizquel at his position.
Rollins did not just entertain and ignite on the field, either. He spoke 21 words in January 2007 that traveled to New York faster than the Acela Express and will remain with him for the rest of his life.
"For the first time since I've been here, I think we are the team to beat in the National League East," Rollins said a few weeks before the start of spring training.
It was a bold declaration from a guy on a team that had not won anything in 13 years. When asked if he was worried about offending the defending division champion New York Mets, the biggest little man in Phillies history did not back down.
"They had a chance last year to go to the World Series," Rollins said. "They made it to the playoffs. They won a division. Congratulations, but last year is over."
An amazing sequence of events followed. The Phillies arrived for work on Sept. 13 seven games behind the Mets in the NL East with only 17 games to play. It was going to be another lost year.
And then the magic started.
Rollins had three hits in a game the Phillies won against Colorado. A three-game sweep against the Mets in New York pulled the Phillies within 31/2 games, and by Sept. 27 the teams were tied. The Phillies won the division on the final day. Rollins had at least one hit in 16 of the final 17 games, batting .309 with three doubles, three triples, three home runs, and 12 RBIs. It was the culmination of an MVP season for the 28-year-old shortstop and the coronation of the Phillies as the team to beat in the National League East.
The Phillies remained that team for the following four seasons, filling Citizens Bank Park to the brim as they won the World Series in 2008, returned to the Fall Classic in 2009, and collected a franchise-record 102 victories in 2011. J-Roll, wearing his familiar No. 11 and that enormous, gap-toothed smile, was in the middle of it all.
There was the leadoff home run in the clinching Game 5 of the 2008 National League Championship Series in Dodger Stadium, the venue he will now call home. There was the two-out, two-run, game-ending double against the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS. There were so many incredible plays in the field and so few mistakes on the routine plays that can eat shortstops alive.
Happiness and success should be the most distinct remembrances of Rollins, but he did also have a knack for infuriating the fans and the men who managed him. Larry Bowa did not always understand Rollins' breezy demeanor, and Charlie Manuel benched him for not running full speed to first base. Ryne Sandberg was frustrated in spring training earlier this year when Rollins responded to a question about his lagging spring training statistics by saying, "Who cares?" Most of that stuff figures to be forgotten in time.
Rollins' last great memory with the Phillies and one of the very few from the most recent season was when he broke Mike Schmidt's franchise record for hits in a June game against the Chicago Cubs. Schmidt greeted J-Roll and raised his arm in triumph. It triggered a nice ovation from the home crowd. After that, there was nothing left for Rollins to ignite, and now he has become the first of the aging core to disappear.