There are few, if any, people on the planet that know more about Philadelphia Phillies history than Chris Wheeler.
“Wheels” spent 47 years in the Phillies organization, working in the television booth every year from 1977 to 2013.
I recently spoke with Wheeler for more than 45 minutes about a variety of topics, including the Hall of Fame cases of four former Phillies that are on the 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. His answers were very insightful:
Larry Bowa — who managed Abreu from 2001 to 2004 and was on Joe Torre’s staff when Abreu was traded to the New York Yankees in 2006 — recently vouched for Abreu’s Hall of Fame case.
Wheeler, who was in the booth for all of Abreu’s time with the Phillies, recalled the outfielder’s time in red pinstripes fondly.
“[He was a] five-tool player who made it look too easy,” Wheeler said of the two-time All-Star. “I’ve always felt that.”
“What’s the one knock that you get on Bobby Abreu? ‘Well he wouldn’t run into a wall.’ Who gives a damn that he wouldn’t run into a wall? Maybe he could play a lot more games because he didn’t run into walls.
“But what couldn’t he do? Look at his numbers. Look at his batting average. Look at the way he could run and steal bases. Look at the way he could play the outfield and throw from the outfield. He was a five-tool guy. He could hit for average or hit a home run. He won the Home Run Derby one year at the All-Star Game.”
According to Ryan Thibodaux’s public ballot tracker, Abreu has received 12.6% of votes on the 36.5% of the 2022 Hall of Fame ballots that are now public. The Phillies Wall of Famer received 8.7% of votes in 2021, his second year of eligibility.
From Wheeler’s perspective, Abreu deserves a long look in his quest for Cooperstown.
“So to me, Bobby Abreu absolutely should get a lot of consideration for the Hall of Fame.”
Schilling recently told Rob Maaddi that he would like to go into the Hall of Fame as a Diamondback, if elected. Frankly, that’s fair given how dominant he was between 2001 and 2002, when he went 45-13 with a 3.10 ERA and 2.75 FIP. Schilling finished runner-up to teammate Randy Johnson in National League Cy Young Award voting.
With that said, before he won three total World Series titles between the Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox, Schilling used 147 pitches to throw a complete game for the Phillies in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series. Wheeler recalled in the immediate aftermath how quickly Schilling wanted the ball again.
“I wanted him to have the ball in the big game.
“He kept us in the World Series in 1993 against Toronto when he pitched a shutout [in Game 4]. We went up to Toronto that night. The next game we were playing was on a Saturday, the sixth game, the one Mitch [Williams] gave up the home run.
“So I’m sitting in Jimmy Fregosi’s office, because I used to hang out with him all the time and do his pregame show. Schilling walked in during the time that I’m sitting there and he said ‘I want to talk to you about something to Jimmy.’ And I said ‘Jimmy, do you want me to go?’ And Jimmy said ‘No, you stay.’ And Schilling said ‘I want to pitch tonight. You need me in this game tonight — I want to pitch.’ And I’ll never forget, Fregosi said ‘No. Stay in the dugout, you do not touch the ball tonight.’ And he looked at me later and said ‘I’m not going to be the one that hurts his career. I’m not gonna be that guy.'”
Eight years later, the aforementioned Johnson relieved Schilling in Game 7 of the World Series, literally the evening after he threw 104 pitches in his Game 6 start. The Diamondbacks ultimately won on a walk-off single by Luis Gonzalez against Mariano Rivera and the New York Yankees. Schilling and Johnson won co-MVPs of the World Series.
The 2007 National League MVP is in his first year on the ballot, and to this point, he’s received 11.9% of votes on public ballots. That’s nowhere near the 75% needed to be elected, though it is more than the 5% candidates needed to hang on the ballot for another year.
In Wheeler’s mind, Rollins deserves to be elected, though he did agree with my assessment that the four-time Gold Glove Award winner could end up in ballot purgatory.
“It’s tough for me to be objective about this, but I say yes, because I saw him play almost every game of his career. You want to get into his numbers? How about his defensive numbers? How about the runs that he saved?
“I’ve always said that I thought if he had one more Jimmy Rollins-type year offensively in the big leagues, it would be a no-brainer.
“So, I’m afraid that he’s going to be one of those guys — and you hit it right on the head — that will stay on the ballot and flirt with it for a long time. If they can find a way not to put Dick Allen in the Hall of Fame, then they’ll certainly find a way not to put Jimmy Rollins in the Hall of Fame.”
Rollins is often compared to Barry Larkin, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012. Both won a National League MVP, have over 2,300 hits and won a World Series.
However, Larkin slashed .295/.371/.444 with an .815 OPS in his career, as compared to a .264/.324/.418 slash line from Rollins, who finished his career with a .743 OPS. Larkin’s 67.0 fWAR is also quite a bit higher than Rollins’ 49.4 fWAR.
Whether you believe Rollins has a Hall of Fame case on par with one of the shortstops most recently inducted into Cooperstown depends on your perspective.
“I just think that they are going to find enough negative things about him to say that he’s not Barry Larkin. And I saw them both play, and he’s Barry Larkin.”
I started the conversation on Rolen by telling Wheeler that he’s one of the five best defenders that I’ve ever seen at any position. He took things a step further.
“Well, he’s the best [defensive] third baseman that I ever saw, and I watched Mike Schmidt play every game of his career. So that tells you where I come down on Rolen,” Wheeler said.
“Now, offensively, he’s not Michael. He couldn’t hit like Mike Schmidt could.
“But I look at Scott Rolen and say ‘Yes.’ How many better third basemen have played the game of baseball. You had guys like Brooks Robinson, who everybody loved to watch. Could he play third base like Scott?
“Here’s the thing that Scott Rolen had that none of these other guys had. He was so big and so quick, that his range was unbelievable. Nobody’s had range like that, I don’t think, playing that position.”
In my countdown on Audacy Sports, I ranked Rolen as the ninth greatest third basemen in MLB history, which gives you an idea of how I feel about the matter.
Of the four players discussed in this article, Rolen appears to have the best chance of eventually being elected. Rolen received votes on 52.9% of ballots in 2021, a pretty massive jump from the 35.3% he got in 2020. Now in his fifth year on the ballot, Rolen has garnered votes from 72% of the voters that have made their 2022 ballots public to this point.
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