The 2009 World Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies featured arguably the two best shortstops of the 2000s.
One was Derek Jeter, who would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020, receiving 99.7% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. The other was Jimmy Rollins, who, along with former teammates Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon, will become eligible for the ballot for the first time in 2022.
Friday, the two managers in that series – Charlie Manuel and Joe Girardi – reflected on what Rollins meant to the Phillies at his peak, and whether he could join Jeter in Cooperstown at some point.
“I think actually as a player sometimes, Jimmy was an underrated player,” Manuel said. “I think that he definitely should be considered for the Hall of Fame with a good chance of getting in. If you followed his career and you look at his stats…you look at him as a leadoff hitter, things like that…compare of what kind of player he was and try to find somebody that’s in the Hall of Fame to compare him with, I think that he’ll actually score good. His RBIs and his run totals speaks for themselves. His RBIs came usually with the bottom of the order on base, and that means a whole lot. I think his defense got overlooked, because he was a good player that could run good and had a good bat.”
Manuel, who managed Rollins for parts of nine seasons, is correct about Rollins’ defensive prowess. Between 2000 and 2009, the only shortstop that FanGraphs says was a better defender than Rollins was long-time Pittsburgh Pirate Jack Wilson. Rollins, who had an especially strong arm, won three Gold Glove Awards during the 2000s, and a fourth in 2012. For as impressive as Rollins was both as a hitter and basestealer at his peak, there’s a case to be made that the best aspect of his game was his defense.
Girardi got an up-close view of Rollins at his peak as well. Three years before managing against the Phillies in the World Series, Girardi spent the 2006 season at the manager of the then-Florida Marlins. A year before he’d ultimately win the National League MVP, Rollins homered four times and drove in eight runs against the Fish, something that Girardi hasn’t forgotten about.
“He was a difference maker, Jimmy,” Girardi said when speaking about Rollins. “He was a guy that could do a lot of different things…he was a switch-hitter…he could steal bases…play very good shortstop. I don’t really have the numbers in front of me – like how many hits he amassed and all that – but I will tell you that during his time period he was one of the best shortstops in the game. And that’s kind of what you look at is how you played during your era. And Jimmy was a difference maker, and he was a little pain in my rear end from time to time, but you expect that when you have a great player on your squad.”
At the very least, Rollins figures to hang around on the Hall of Fame ballot for some time. He won an MVP, four Gold Glove Awards and made three All-Star teams.
He may not have had the same level of defensive accomplishments as Omar Vizquel, but Rollins was an excellent defender, whose peak offensive numbers trounced Vizquel. Rollins finished his career with a 49.4 fWAR, which tops Vizquel’s 42.5, despite Vizquel playing seven more seasons than Rollins. Vizquel received 49.1% of votes on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2021. If you’ve voted for Vizquel, it would be hard not to vote for Rollins.
One Hall of Fame comp that’s used frequently for Rollins is Barry Larkin. Like Rollins, Larkin won an MVP. Rollins – the Phillies all-time hits leader – actually finished his career with 115 more hits than Larkin. However, Larkin, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012, tops Rollins in a majority of categories by a hefty amount. Rollins slashed .264/.324/.418 in his career, as opposed to .295/.371/.444 from Larkin. JAWS – an advanced metric that analytically-inclined voters lean on – grades Larkin as the 12th best shortstop in baseball history and Rollins as the 30th. Larkin also made nine more All-Star teams and won eight more Silver Slugger Awards than Rollins. The point being, if your goal is to make a Hall of Fame case for Rollins, comparing him to Larkin may not be the best strategy.
No matter what, Rollins is one of the 10 greatest players in Phillies history. Whether he’s elected to the Hall of Fame or not, it’s only a matter of time before he’s placed on the Phillies Wall of Fame, perhaps with both Manuel and Girardi in attendance.
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