When Philadelphia Phillies All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins broke onto the MLB scene with the Phillies, scouts cited more reasons as to why he probably wouldn’t last three seasons than reasons why he would end up one of the most productive and accolade-rocking shortstops in MLB history.
Sure, he was a second-round pick in the 1996 MLB draft by the Phillies, but the Alameda, California kid never hit above .275 in the majors. He had speed. He could field his position, but he hit too many fly balls and he struck out like a dude who jacked 30 bombs a year. To top it off, son was just 5-foot-8, 173 pounds soaking wet with two batting tees in each pocket.
Then when he got his first major league hit on Sept. 17th, 2000 – a triple against the Florida Marlins – and flew around the bases like Willie Mays sporting a hot foot, the MLB world knew there was something special and electric about the cat they call “J Roll.”
If anything, he was fleet-footed. He stole at least 20 bases every season from 2001 to 2009, with a career high of 47 in 2008. Seventeen years later Rollins is still rolling. On Saturday the diminutive three-time NL All-Star, 2008 World Series Champion and 2007 NL MVP knocked a giant out of the top spot on the Phillies all-time hits mark. Rollins' line drive single to right field in the fifth inning of a 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs gave him 2,235 career hits, surpassing the record of Mike Schmidt who’s arguably the best third baseman in MLB history and certainly the most accomplished Phillies player of all-time. It also gave the struggling Phillies (29-37) their fourth win in five games.
Rollins jetted around the bag in his flamboyant bright red baseball glasses, clapped his hands and blew a kiss on the tip of his finger. Then he tipped his hat to the crowd and absorbed a raucous standing ovation. Adding nostalgic intensity, drama and historical significance to the situation was a white-haired Mike Schmidt, who ran out to embrace Rollins, whispered some words in his ear and then held his arm up high, officially recognizing him as the Philly hits king.
“It was definitely special,” Rollins told MLB Network. “I think everybody outside gets to enjoy it more than the person going through it. It was a 3-1 fastball up and away. I was able to get the head around to it and drop it in. My dad was here... my mother flew him out here for Father’s Day. That was her Father’s Day gift to him and myself.”
Rollins’ career may be entering its final phase (along with triumvirate partners Chase Utley and Ryan Howard) and the Phillies may be in a tough rebuilding stage, but there’s no better time to put Rollins’ career accomplishments into proper perspective. We already know he doesn’t hold weight like a Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken. His career .268 batting average doesn’t jump off the bubble gum card. Rollins is the type of player that has had his share of sensational seasons and some subpar campaigns. He’s what a lot of people would call a compiler, but the career he’s compiled and the charismatic, hard-working and at times, elite manner in which he has held down one position with the same squad for over a decade, emphatically proves that J Roll is a supreme baller and leaves an MLB legacy that most players could only dream about.
Rollins is the Phillies all-time career hits leader, has the second-most Gold Gloves of any active player at his position, and is the only active MLB shortstop to win an MVP award. He’s arguably been the best shortstop in the NL for the past decade. He’s the only active shortstop in baseball that’s a member of the 400 stolen base/200 homer club. He’s also a member of the 200 homer/2,000 hits club. Only 36 ballers in history whose signature position was shortstop played long enough to rack up 2,000 hits and if you add in Rollins’ power surges, the club gets even more exclusive. Only Derek Jeter (3,372/257), Cal Ripken Jr. (2,486/346) and Miguel Tejada (2,188/205) have ever accomplished this feat.
Not to get bogged down in a statistical orgy, but some dudes get overlooked because of the era they play in. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were the standards at shortstop for much of the mid '90s into the early 2000’s. But only Rollins has strung together the longest MLB hitting streak (38 games) of the last quarter-century, is one of four players who ever compiled a 20-homer, 20-steal, 20-double, 20-triple season and has remained healthy enough to play at least 140 games at short in 11 different seasons - a total reached in the last 30 years by only (here’s those names again) Derek Jeter, Omar Vizquel and Cal Ripken. The stat I dig the most is his workhorse, all-time MLB record for most at bats in a season with 716.
His glove is butter too as Rollins is one of just seven players to ever amass 2,000 hits and four or more Gold Gloves. W’ere talking supreme leather flashers such as Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio; the best infielders to ever do it. In fact, on the power tip, Rollins has more career dingers than those three players combined (191).