Jimmy Rollins: End Of An Era


Though neither the Phils nor Dodgers has yet made it official, that public announcement is coming as soon as today, as inevitable as the April 15th tax deadline.

For all intents and purposes, Jimmy Rollins‘ days of wearing red pinstripes have ended, and the longtime Phillies shortstop has ridden off into the sunset.  He and his famous swagger and bravado are heading off to Tinseltown.

It all began on a warm, late summer afternoon that for some was a lifetime ago.  For others, it seems like it was just yesterday.  For Jimmy himself, it was half his own lifetime ago. For us all, it now concludes: the most glorious era in Phillies franchise history.

The date was September 17, 2000.  Practically, a generation ago.  Nearly a full year before the terrorist attacks of September 11th.  The Phillies manager on that late-season day was Terry Francona.  Yes, Terry Francona!

Jimmy Rollins was not yet “J-Roll.”  He was a 21-year old prospect from Oakland who idolized Rickey Henderson.  The number on his back was John Kruk‘s old number, 29 – only he wore it minus the beer and tobacco stains. 

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The Phillies roster was littered with forgettable names from that forgettable era – Sefcik, Ducey, Bennett, Prince, Daal, Travis Lee…the list goes on and on. Rollins would waste no time in announcing his presence against the Florida Marlins.

Chuck Smith was on the mound in the bottom of the third inning.  Rollins lined a hanging slider into the right field corner, and then sped around the AstroTurf at ‘The Vet’ like Secretariat making the final turn at Churchill Downs.

He slid into third base ahead of the tag, and John Vukovich was there to meet him with a congratulatory slap on the back.  With a simple triple, during the waning days of a 97-loss season, the entire fortunes of a struggling franchise were about to reverse course.

When Rollins arrived in town, the Phillies were the doormat of the National League.  Then the farm began to bear fruit, and what a bounty it would yield.  Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, and Ryan Madson.  Homegrown talent that would lead the team to five consecutive National League East Division titles.

While Utley was the heart-and-soul of those teams, Rollins was the leader and spokesman – the PR man.  Never shying away from the camera, or even a little controversy.

Did he call out the fans?  Sure.  Did he have run-ins with Charlie Manuel?  Absolutely.  But, he was always honest with that certain panache, and that is why we loved him.

I think we are the team to beat in the NL East.

The Phillies had not been to the postseason since 1993.  But, those were the words Rollins used the describe the Phillies going into Spring Training in 2007.  Eyebrows were raised all over the country.  J-Roll meant what he said.

That simple statement, “The team to beat”, is unforgettable – forever a part of Phillies lore.  Now, Rollins needed to put his money where his mouth was.  Did he ever! 

I think we are the team to beat in the NL East” ~ Jimmy Rollins, 1/23/2007

Rollins put on a season for the ages:  139 runs scored, 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 home runs, 41 stolen bases, .875 OPS.  The results culminated in the National League MVP.  He stepped up when it mattered most.

The Phillies trailed the New York Mets in the standings in mid-September.  A 7-game deficit with 17 games to play.  The Phillies caught the Mets, and on the final day of the regular season clinched the division title.  The team to beat, after all.

Who can forget the double play that he started in the ninth inning of the next-to-last day of the 2008 season? That double play clinched the second consecutive division title, and secured Brad Lidge‘s perfect season.

That 2008 season ultimately culminated in euphoria on a cold, windy night at Citizens Bank Park when the Philadelphia Phillies won just the 2nd World Series crown in franchise history. It was all punctuated by a sea of red, lining Broad Street on a sun-splashed, 70 degree victory parade on Halloween afternoon two days later.

Who can forget the two-run double to the right center field gap off Jonathan Broxton to win Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS?  Arguably, the biggest hit of Rollins’ career.  It was Larry Bowa who called him a red-light player.  He always seemed to come through in clutch situations and never met a camera he didn’t like. 

Rollins will be remembered as one of the greatest athletes in Philadelphia sports history.  Like all of the greats, he was also a somewhat polarizing figure.  Iverson, Schmidt, Cunningham, Lindros.  Most loved them.  Others, not so much.

But for all the love and admiration he has been receiving these past few days, what Rollins deserves most is respect.  Respect for what he did for a franchise and a city.  For giving back to the community. For giving the team an identity. For making a city proud of its team once again.

August 4, 2015 will be a strange day in Philadelphia. Assuming he is healthy, Jimmy Rollins will run out to his shortstop position at Citizens Bank Park, just like he has hundreds of times prior.  Only this time, he’ll be wearing ‘road grays’ with a blue cap bearing the initials “LA” perched on top of his head.  A strange sight, indeed.

And then there will be the standing ovation.  One of the greatest players in franchise history returning to his home.

The festivities are likely to be described in one word: unforgettable.  Just like “J-Roll” himself.