When Jimmy Rollins cockily and accurately proclaimed the Philadelphia Phillies as the “team to beat” prior to the 2007 season, fans instantly fell in love with the slogan and the man behind it. Now, as Rollins prepares to make his return to Philadelphia for the first time since he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December of last year, the Phillies are once again the team to beat.
Well… Sort of.
Since the season resumed after the Midsummer Classic back on July 17th, the Phillies have been the hottest team in baseball, posting a 12-3 record in that span, which is, the best mark in MLB.
So while maybe not in the exact way Rollins meant it, the Phillies are, as we speak, the “team to beat” and I’m guessing Rollins would like nothing more than to do said beating in his homecoming.
The former Phils shortstop of 15 seasons, is not exactly having a career year with his new team. Actually, that’s not true. He is having a career year. Rollins is batting a career low .216 with a career low on base percentage of .272, a career low OPS of .631, a career low WAR of -0.4 and, well, you get it by now.
Rollins, at 36, is not the same guy who was issuing bold declarations, whose swagger and confidence embodied his every move. He’s not the guy who made history on the final day of the 2007 season, notching a triple to ensure himself inclusion in the very exclusive, four-man 20-20-20-20 club. That Rollins was a guy who personified timely hitting, a guy who every time he came to the plate, you just knew, something magical could happen and often times, it did.
The Rollins of today is no longer a superstar. He’s a guy many view as nothing more than a stop-gap for Corey Seager, who according to MLB.com, is the second best prospect in all of baseball. He’s batting eighth, sometimes even ninth, and has a paltry .148 batting average with runners in scoring position.
But, in his return to Philadelphia, Rollins shouldn’t be remembered as the guy who in his final season here soured with fans because of the ‘me-first’ attitude he showed in breaking records. He shouldn’t be criticized for too many pop-ups or a penchant to not run out every hit ball such the likes that he developed later in his career.
That doesn’t characterize what Rollins meant to this city and what he meant to these fans. He played his first full season in 2001, a time when the Phillies were floundering in the standings much like they are now. And back then, with a .274 average, 46 stolen bases and 55 XBH (12 of which were triples, 14 home runs), he was to the Phillies what a guy like Maikel Franco is now, the lone bright spot.
Rollins brought a team that had experienced years of futility into an age that could be considered one of, if not the best, five year periods in franchise history. He led the way through all of that, be it with his performance on the field or as the vocal, confident mouthpiece off of it.
In baseball there is a saying, “the heart of the line-up” which typically refers to the 3-4-5 hitters, who ordinarily are the best a team has and like the heart is to the body, could be considered the team’s lifeblood. Well, when it came to the Phillies of that glorious five year run from 2007-2011, I always said if Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were the heart, then Rollins must have been the soul.
It was because of Rollins that this team, who hadn’t even been in the playoffs since 1993, and that had lost the NL East to the New York Mets handedly the year before, had actually found the confidence to believe they could be everything their shortstop proclaimed them to be. As the leader, Rollins backed up his words, winning the MVP in 2007 and doing something no other player in baseball history had ever done by surpassing 200 hits, 15 triples, 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a single season.
“The team to beat” became a rallying cry for the 2008 World Champions much like Tug McGraw’s famous, “Ya Gotta Believe” was for the 1980 team, even if he did originally coin the slogan with the Mets a few seasons prior. That didn’t bother Phillies fans though. All that mattered was that, for the first time in a long time, they did in fact, have something to believe in, just like Rollins’ comments served to do for his core’s postseason success.
Overall, Rollins was an icon in Philadelphia, a star this “blue-collar city” could and did embrace. So when the day comes that Rollins signs his one-day contract to retire as a Phillie, when he returns to be honored much as his teammate who debuted alongside him in 2000, Pat Burrell, was just a few days ago, fans will remember him as the guy who brought a much beleaguered sports city its first title in 28 years as well as countless memories to go along with it.
A customary tip of the cap to Rollins, whose legend will never be forgotten.