Jimmy Rollins belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame

It was probably on the first day of his first spring training session, Chase Utley said, that he first met Jimmy Rollins. Or maybe it was the summer before when Utley retired from Veterans Stadium after being drafted by the Phillies in 2000.

“Actually, I can’t remember the first time,” Utley said with a laugh. “That is a long time ago.”

Utley and Rollins played so many games together—more than any doubles tandem in National League history—it’s hard to imagine a time when they were strangers.

They broke through in the big league three years apart, helped make the Phillies relevant again, and then secured the city’s first championship in 25 years as protagonists in one of the team’s best eras. They had two of the best careers in franchise history and they will be forever linked.

Utley may not remember when he first met Rollins, but he does know where he stands with Rollins’ legacy.

“I have no doubt that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” said Utley.

The results of Rollins’ first year on the Baseball Hall of Fame voting will be announced Tuesday evening. He’s not expected to hit the threshold needed for the election — 75% of the vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America — but is leaning toward the 5% needed to stay on the ballot for another year.

Reaching that threshold is critical, as next year could see Rollins’ case resonate with more voters. Former Phillies Scott Rolen and Billy Wagner have seen their candidacy gain momentum this year after getting bogged down on the ballot.

Rollins won an MVP Award, four gold gloves, a silver slugger and made three All-Star teams. He has the most hits in Phillies history and has the highest fielding percentage (.983) of the NL shortstops who played at least 1,000 games between 2000 and 2014.

From 2001 to 2013, Rollins ranked second in NL in runs scored, first in hits, first in doubles and third in extra-base hits. He is the only player in history to have 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 200 hits in a season.

“He played a great short stop,” said Utley. “He made it look extremely easy, which when you talk to guys who have played shortstop over the years, isn’t as easy as he made it seem. That he could not only play defense but be present offensively, whether it was in the batter’s box or on the bases, there was a threat everywhere.”

Utley and Rollins started 1,200 games together as a doubles tandem that followed only Detroit’s Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell for the most games started together by a shortstop and second baseman since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Trammell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018 by one of the Hall’s committees and Whitaker is considered one of the better players outside of Cooperstown. Like Utley and Rollins, the Tigers’ doubles tandem had great careers, but their Hall-of-Fame business wasn’t shoe-ins.

“We played so many games together and looking back, we were lucky enough to play in those teams together,” said Utley. “It was clearly more than just Jimmy and me. We had a huge group of guys contributing. It all comes down to wanting to be the best on the pitch, and I know Jimmy wanted that too, just like me.”

Rollins’ biggest hurdle could be the stat – win over substitution – that should help Utley when his case is first considered two years from now.

Rollins’ career WAR (47.6) is only the 25th of all shortstops. In the past 60 years, no shortstop has made it to the Hall of Fame with a lower WAR. Utley’s career WAR (64.5) is 14th all-time under second baseman and better than nine Hall of Fame second baseman. His 2005-2014 WAR (59.7) is the second best of all players, behind only Albert Pujols.

Since 1980, only one player – outfielder and designated batter Harold Baines – has retired with a lower WAR than Rollins and entered Cooperstown. Rollins has only finished in the Top 10 in WAR once in his career and is well below the WAR average (67.5) for a short stop in the Hall of Fame.

His lack of WAR could be made up for by his durability, as Rollins played in 95% of his team’s matches between 2001 and 2009, taking the third most matches among shortstops during that stretch. He started all 162 games at shortstop in his 2007 MVP season.

“That’s huge, because you don’t see that often,” Utley said. “He wanted to be there whether he felt good or not. Over the course of the season there will be plenty of days where you just don’t feel like you’re putting a whole lot on the table, but he was still ready to go on a daily basis. That’s something all players should look up to.”

A friendship that started on the backfields in Clearwater, Florida—or maybe it was around the battle cage of Veterans Stadium—could eventually make its way to Cooperstown, NY. They were two of the catalysts for the last great era in franchise history and it’s hard to tell their stories without mentioning the other. One day that story could be etched onto bronze plates.

“We definitely have a little bit of different personalities, but we both have the same goal and that is to be the best baseball player we could be personally,” Utley said. “We pushed each other in the right direction. I had my head down on what I needed. Jimmy had his head up with a big smile on his face, but still focused on what he had to do.

“We were always joking with each other and he would recommend that I smile a little more and I would recommend that he keep his head down a little more. It was a good chat and back and forth between the two of us. We pushed each other to to get better.”

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