Raising Questions

Whose number should be retired by the Phillies?



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Welcome a new contributor to Phillies Nation, Brendan Sample. He writes this piece about the current Phillies’ policy with retired numbers, and how it may have to change with the upcoming retirements of recent notables.

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As the longest tenured single-name franchise in baseball, the Phillies have had thousands of players make an appearance in some capacity, with some of them ranking among the best to ever play the game. Despite over 130 years of existence, however, one thing that the team is lacking in, compared to other historic franchises, is retired numbers.

The Phillies have retired the numbers of just five players during their history: Richie Ashburn (1), Jim Bunning (14), Mike Schmidt (20), Steve Carlton (32) and Robin Roberts (36). (Chuck Klein and Grover Cleveland Alexander are retired, but without numbers, while Jackie Robinson’s 42 is retired throughout all of Major League Baseball.) Given the amount of time the team has been around for, retiring only five numbers seems like a small amount, but it is ultimately, at least to a degree, by design.

Though it’s never been made official, the Phillies have an unwritten policy to only retire the numbers of players who are voted into the Hall of Fame, which is the case for the five players who have been honored. Combined with the fact that the Phils also have the most losses of any team in baseball history, the policy has led to a distinct lack of players who would end up being the last to wear their uniform number.

With all this in mind, the question must be asked: Should the Phillies change their policy and consider retiring the numbers of players who aren’t in the Hall of Fame? This isn’t to say that the team should strive for as many retired numbers as a franchise like the Yankees, but the question becomes more relevant when considering the players that will likely be retiring in the coming years.

Of all the key members of the Phillies’ playoff run from 2007-2011, the one who easily deserves the most consideration for having his number retired is Jimmy Rollins. During the course of his 15 years with the team, J-Roll established himself as not only the greatest shortstop in franchise history, but also became the Phils’ all-time hit king with 2,306 overall. Add to that already impressive resume his four Gold Gloves, 453 stolen bases, an MVP award in 2007 and of course winning a World Series in 2008, and you have the profile of a man who was the face of the franchise for nearly his entire career.

While he certainly wasn’t perfect, Rollins still meant a great deal to the Phillies franchise and to the city as a whole, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Assuming he never plays another game, Rollins will ultimately fall short in some categories of what is typically considered to be HOF-worthy. He failed to eclipse 2,500 hits overall, 250 home runs, 1,000 RBI or a .450 slugging percentage, among other statistics.

By sabermetrics, his career WAR of 46 is about 20 points lower than the average HOF shortstop, which Baseball Reference calculates at 66.7.

At best, Hall voters will likely see Rollins as a borderline player, which could be enough to keep him on the ballot for several years, but probably not enough to get him the 75 percent needed for official election. When it comes to the matter of getting his No. 11 retired by the Phillies, however, that simply shouldn’t matter. Though he might not have been one of the all-time greats in the eyes of baseball history, the thought of another Phillies player wearing his number is almost unfathomable given everything he did for the team.

So while J-Roll seems like the most obvious choice to have his number retired, what about other players from that same period? This is where it gets trickier, as I would argue that there might not be any other players who should have their number retired alongside Rollins, though I’m definitely on the fence about it.

Chase Utley would certainly be the next closest, but while there is no doubt that he is beloved in Philadelphia, I’m not totally convinced that his legacy is quite as comparable. He falls short of Rollins in many categories and doesn’t have the distinction of being a Phillies all-time leader in anything aside from hits by pitches, but does also surpass him in significant stats like home runs, RBI and average. Combined with the fact that his WAR of 65.4 is also notably higher, and his case becomes much more convincing.

Though there can be much debate over which Phillies deserve to have their numbers retired or not, the fact remains that the debate won’t even exist under the team’s current policy. It’s perhaps unlikely that Rollins or Utley will ever make the Hall, and it would be a true shame to see players from one of the greatest periods in franchise history stand no chance at having their numbers retired. If the Phils want to properly honor their modern legacy, a change must be made.

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