Scott Rolen is the best Philadelphia Phillies position player of my lifetime. For a fandom that began slightly before the 1993 World Series team and continues into the Stupid Money Era, no Phillies player dominated different phases of the game so consistently. Rolen is also the most unfairly maligned great athlete in Philadelphia history. It is time to bring him out of Philly sports exile as he inches closer to the Baseball Hall Of Fame.
Rolen’s baseball prowess and why he left Philadelphia are naturally dormant issues in 2021. He left town in 2002, yet the infielder has not been formally celebrated by the franchise. Rolen deserves a spot on the Phillies Wall of Fame, yet he would be booed by fans unable to leave a sleeping dog alone. The reasons for that are why Philadelphia is one of the most thin-skinned sports towns in America.
Scott Rolen In Philadelphia
Scott Rolen began his career with a bang. He won National League Rookie of the Year in 1997 and a Gold Glove in his second season. Despite missing time due to injuries, he consistently posted good power numbers that were dwarfed by sluggers in the steroid era. In addition to playing elite defense, Rolen also notched double-digit steals in four of his first five seasons.
The Phillies tried to extend Rolen and make him the core of the franchise as they were laying the foundation of a World Series team. In reality, they were mired in a dreadful stretch that included ace Curt Schilling’s trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks and an awful home stadium. Only the most imaginative dreamers envisioned a blueprint for success.
Philadelphia And The Scott Rolen Trade
Rolen was ultimately traded for a forgettable package of players. Its best component was Placido Polanco. To this day, they still have not found a long-term solution at third who touches Rolen’s caliber. Even current sensation Alec Bohm is projected to slide across the diamond to first in the future.
The messy divorce was played out in the media. One party wanted out of the marriage and the other was desperately clinging to its better half. Rolen, to his credit, was consistent in his desire to leave town and still play hard on the field. He never misled the team or quit on Philadelphia, even if Philly quit on him.
Jimmy Rollins is the only other legitimate candidate for sustained excellence at offense, defense, and baserunning in the last 30 years. Chase Utley is the only equal in the hustle category. Given that they both lacked Rollins’ flair, why has Rolen been persona non grata and Utley the favored son?
The easy answer is winning. Utley won a title in 2008 and was a central player in Philadelphia’s run from 2007 to 2011.
The harder answer is sour grapes. The cerebral all-star wanted out of Philadelphia for professional reasons. We took it as personally as Michael Jordan’s bout with the pizza flu.
It hurt that he wanted out of town. He desired greener pastures. We had astroturf and Turk Wendell.
Philadelphia’s mood has lightened since the World Series and Super Bowl parades. At the time, it was in a much more hostile state of mind because Rolen was one of many players who left town over the previous ten years. Egged on by drive time shows and figures in the front office, the fanbase treated Rolen as a villain.
He was even booed at a ceremony honoring Harry Kalas. It was not our finest hour. Odds are that many fans have not let those feelings go… still.
Recent history indicates that there is hope for reconciliation.
The Phillies retired the number of another generational player received with mixed reception: Dick Allen. When the third baseman left Philadelphia in 1969, he was not the most beloved player in town. There are a myriad of complex reasons why he was unfairly maligned, but appreciation for Allen grew as nostalgia for his monochrome Ballantine Blasts inches him closer to Cooperstown.
Fondness for Phillies baseball as the millennium turned is not quite the same. Veterans Stadium astroturf was as dreadful as the play on the field. Razor thin highlights of the era include Robert Person’s big bat, a Mike Lieberthal walk-off, and a brawl between Paul Byrd and Eddie Perez. Not quite the stuff that dreams are made of.
Rolen, Schilling, and Bobby Abreu were the few bright spots. In hindsight, it should not be a surprise to anyone that Scott Rolen wanted out. If fans and media were honest with themselves, the Phillies were dreck at the time and an all-star competitor deserved a shot at winning. If fans loathed ownership’s inability to put a winner on the field, why would a player stick with the same franchise?
Scott Rolen And The Hall Of Fame
The 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot offers three key Phillies players from this era. Schilling may finally get the necessary 75% of votes this year. Bobby Abreu is a longshot. Rolen is a more interesting case.
In 2020 Rolen appeared on 35.3% of Hall of Fame ballots after garnering 17.2% in 2019. The only players who received more votes and did not get in last year are Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Omar Vizquel. In a year without strong first-year candidates or players nearing the end of their eligibility, most of those players have a solid shot at the hall.
That leaves Rolen, who will be on his fourth year on the ballot and has a comparable career WAR (70.1) to 2020 inductees Larry Walker (72.7) and Derek Jeter (71.3). Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling will either be inducted or ineligible within two years.
WAR is particularly important because it comes closer to gauging the total impact of an all-around player over just home runs or hits. Per Baseball Reference, Rolen ranks tenth all-time in career WAR as a third baseman. He is sandwiched between Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez on the list. Of the players ahead of Rolen, only Adrian Beltre (who is not yet eligible for Cooperstown) is not yet inducted.
Rolen tracks as a candidate who is inducted within the next few years. As the best third baseman of his era, a World Series winner, and a seven-time All-Star, he deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown.
That should also merit a spot on the Phillies Wall of Fame and a retired number. It would be a shame to see him unwelcomed when those ceremonies happen. It is up to Phillies fans to forgive, forget, and appreciate Rolen’s excellence on the diamond.