Philadelphia Phillies icon Jimmy Rollins doesn’t know whether or not he’ll ultimately be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. What he does know, however, is that throughout the course of a lifetime of playing baseball, reaching Cooperstown was a goal of his.
Just a couple months shy of his 40th birthday, Rollins appeared on Baseball Stories with Jayson Stark. While the two acknowledged that it’s difficult for a former player to evaluate his own Hall of Fame case, Rollins explained to Stark why he was never afraid to discuss his goal of reaching the Hall of Fame:
“[Some people are afraid to say they want to reach the Hall of Fame] Just like some people are afraid to say they are the team to beat. You have to aspire to something. Ever since I learned about the Hall of Fame…or really knew what it was…I was about eight or nine years old..I didn’t really know what it was, but whatever the Hall of Fame was, I wanted to be in there because I knew it was an achievement. Not everyone is going to get in there. You can’t just walk up be like “Hey, I want to be in the Hall of Fame,” you have to earn that. So my ambition, from the time I really began playing baseball, was to be in that top-tier of players. If I fell short [of being worthy], that doesn’t mean I wasn’t good, but I was always looking above, I was always looking to be better. I’m not going to just sit here and say how how good I am, because there’s someone better than me, and I want to be just as good as that person. So I would say that, and I think a lot of people misconstrued that to me saying ‘I am a Hall of Famer, I’m going to be,’ not literally what I said, ‘I want to be, I aspire to be a Hall of Famer.’ No matter how good you are, you look up at some of those great numbers and say ‘I’m a long ways away, I have work to do.’ And so you keep working, and you keep pushing. And at some point, they’re going to take this jersey from you and you’re going to sit there and just look like ‘Did I do everything I could to get the best out of my ability?’ And if you did that, then you can look in the mirror and be proud of yourself.”
Though Rollins has yet to officially retire from baseball, his career for all intents and purposes is over. He last played for the Chicago White Sox in 2016, meaning he will become eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2022, along with his former teammates Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon. Despite a historic prime, someone like Howard feels unlikely to remain on the ballot past one season because he posted the worst WAR in baseball history after age 32, largely due to injuries. In all likelihood, Rollins will get the necessary five percent of votes to remain on the ballot for some time. Whether he ever receives 75 percent of the vote, which would put him in the Hall of Fame, may be another story.
While Rollins won a National League MVP, four Gold Glove Awards and was the catalyst for one of his era’s best teams, there are other areas that he falls short. He never hit .300 in a season and a .264 career batting average is rather low for a position player whose case isn’t built around power. All-Star Game appearances are a flawed way of evaluating someone’s Hall of Fame case – they only factor in a portion of the season and fans often just vote for their favorite players – but three All-Star appearances is as many as Jay Bruce has made. It’s on the low-end when looking at someone’s Hall of Fame case.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said in 2014 that if Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame, it bodes well for Rollins’ chances. However, that line of thinking may be more indicative of Larkin playing his entire career in Cincinnati than anything, because their two careers weren’t that similar. Sure, both were shortstops that won one league MVP and have similar career hits totals. But for as flawed as looking at All-Star Game appearances may be, Larkin made nine more All-Star teams than Rollins. He won eight more Silver Slugger Awards than Rollins. Larkin’s career bWAR was 70.4, Rollins’ was 46.3. Larkin’s career JAWS – which compares candidates to those already in the Hall of Fame – was 56.9, while Rollins had a 39.3. Larkin had a 43.3 WAR7, which looks at a player’s seven best seasons, while Rollins had a 32.4 WAR7. There’s a Hall of Fame case to be made for Rollins, but comparing him to Larkin hurts his case.
Rollins has other things working for him though. Some Hall of Fame voters try to imagine an era if you took a candidate’s contributions out altogether. It’s hard to do that with Rollins. He won a league MVP and was one of the core members of a team that won five division titles, two National League pennants and a World Series. In addition to Schmidt touting Rollins’ Hall of Fame case, Billy Wagner, who played with and against Rollins in high-leverage situations, said in 2017 that he believes Rollins is a Hall of Famer. Rollins was a noteworthy personality in the sport, is a genuinely kind person and because of his work with TBS, isn’t easy to forget about. Those things shouldn’t matter, but for some voters, they factor in, at least subconsciously.
Last year, I polled four Hall of Fame voters – Stark included – on how they plan to vote when Rollins becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. All four voters said that they value the five years in between a player’s final season and Hall of Fame eligibility. All four also seemed to think that while Rollins will have staying power on the ballot, he may have a tough time getting to the 75 percent threshold.
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