Maybe you won’t believe him, but former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher David Coggin swears that when he plunked Scott Rolen in his second game back at Veterans Stadium, it wasn’t on purpose.
Less than a month after being traded by the Phillies, Rolen’s new team, the St. Louis Cardinals, came to town. Rolen went 2-4 in his first game back in Philly, hitting between Albert Pujols and Tino Martinez in Tony La Russa’s lineup. Coggin started the second game of the series, and in the top of the second, proceeded to hit Rolen, something that he says was just an unfortunate mistake.
“I knew our scouting report said that we had to pitch in on him, and, of course, the one thing I didn’t want to do was hit him, because I respected him a lot,” Coggin said recently on Let’s Go To The Phones. “And the first thing I did was hit him. The crowd went crazy.”
Coggin – who pitched in 60 games for the Phillies between 2000 and 2002 – says that he and Rolen were actually good friends, adding that the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year “took him under his wing” when he first reached the major league level.
Of course, in a pre high-speed internet world, much of the discussion on Rolen’s exit from Philadelphia probably wasn’t as nuanced as it deserved to be.
Prior to the 2002 season, Rolen rejected offers that would have paid him either $90 million over seven seasons or $140 million over 10 years, astronomical amounts in the sport at the time. As Murray Chass of The New York Times outlined nearly 20 years ago, Rolen not only privately said he didn’t believe that the organization had made the proper commitment to building a championship team around him, but publicly shared similar sentiments in spring training that year. Though Rolen would make his first of seven All-Star teams in 2002, just days after representing the Phillies at the midsummer classic, he was shipped along with Doug Nickle to the Cardinals in exchange for Plácido Polanco, Mike Timlin and Bud Smith.
Rather than being focused on attempting to end a postseason drought, the summer of 2002 became more about a pissing match between Rolen and manager Larry Bowa. Prior to being dealt to the Cardinals, Bowa ripped Rolen in comments picked up on a hot mic, and then the two eventually were reported to not be on speaking terms.
Regardless of who was at fault, Coggin admitted that the drama surrounding Rolen absolutely became a distraction to the team in 2002.
“That was ugly,” Coggin said of the final months that Rolen spent with the Phillies. “It was definitely a split clubhouse…kind of your old-school guys you had in there were on Bowa’s side…and it felt like the guys that didn’t see eye-to-eye with Bowa were with Scott Rolen. So I think it was a good move to get that broken apart.”
“Scott is a tough dude, no doubt about it, but I think Scott [and some other players] just didn’t like the style of how he coached. That kinda, I guess, pissed off Phillies fans back at that time.”
Despite later acknowledging that he would have welcomed a trade back to Philadelphia later on in his career, Rolen’s reputation has never recovered in the city that he spent the first six-and-a-half seasons of his career in. Many of the criticisms he had of the organization were legitimate at the time, and are things that many fans who are upset with the direction of the team have spent decades saying.
But getting on the wrong side of Bowa – a franchise icon – is a large reason why Rolen’s reputation has never recovered in Philadelphia. He’s a player that some believe has a legitimate Hall of Fame case, and the largest chunk of his career actually came with the Phillies. And yet, he’s not on the club’s Wall of Fame, and who knows if he ever will be.
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