It was a beautiful moment. On Saturday afternoon, Jimmy Rollins singled to right field to become the Philadelphia Phillies all-time leader in hits. The man he passed – Mike Schmidt – ran onto the field to congratulate Rollins and raise his hand in celebration.
Aside from being the top two on the Phillies all-time hits leader board, Rollins and Schmidt have something else in common: Despite being among the best players in team history, neither man has been completely embraced by Phillies fans.
Schmidt is almost universally regarded as the greatest Phillie of all time, but that didn’t mean that he was universally beloved by the masses while he played here. There were many criticisms: He struck out too much, he didn’t come through in the clutch, and the most perplexing: He didn’t care enough.
Schmidt played with a notoriously laid back demeanor that some fans took as an indication that he wasn’t trying hard enough. He didn’t help his case with some of the quotes he made over the years. He’s admitted that the constant fan and media criticism got to him a bit, and he would occasionally vent with a quote that only seemed to make things worse.
Similarly, there is a decent portion of the fan base who sees Rollins as a “lazy” player. He doesn’t dive all over the field in an attempt to get to ground balls, and of course, he doesn’t always run out pop ups.
Rollins has also uttered his share of quotes that the fans didn’t like very much. He probably shouldn’t have referred to the fans as “front runners,” even though a recent study shows that Phillies fans are apparently the biggest front runners in sports.
It’s telling that when there was a bit of drama between Rollins and manager Ryne Sandberg this spring, many fans sided with Sandberg.
Both Schmidt and Rollins had the misfortune (at least in terms of their reputation) of playing alongside men who epitomized the type of gritty player that Philadelphia fans adore. Schmidt was never going to be as intense as Pete Rose, and Rollins will forever be seen as a slacker compared to Chase Utley. But just because they aren’t as intense as two of the most intense players ever, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t care – or give full effort.
Fans warmed up to Schmidt at the end of his career. As he approached 500 home runs – and the team began to slip into an irrelevance that would last for 20 years – Phillies fans finally seemed to appreciate that they had been watching one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
Will Rollins receive the same appreciation now that he’s atop the team’s hit board? I’m not so sure. There are still a number of fans who would have liked to see him get traded yesterday, and for some reason take offense to the fact that a player actually wants to stay in Philadelphia. There are also a number of fans to whom he’ll always be the guy who didn’t run out every pop up.
Maybe in twenty years, when J.P. Crawford passes Rollins to become the Phillies’ new all-time hits leader, Rollins will be on hand to congratulate him. Maybe at that point everyone will realize just how lucky we were to have Rollins manning the shortstop position for over 15 years. Maybe he’ll then receive the adulation that he deserves.
Or maybe Phillies fans can stop worrying about his supposed lack of hustle and show more appreciation for one of the franchise’s all-time greats while he’s still playing.