By Terence Moore, MLB.com
There are several ways to put into perspective Jimmy Rollins becoming the career hits leader of the Phillies.
For one, his team is rather ancient, and I’m not just talking about the aging roster. The Phils have been around since 1883. All of that is reason enough to salute this consistently splendid hitter and fielder they call J-Roll, but ever hear of Mike Schmidt?
Until Rollins ripped his record-breaking single last Saturday, Schmidt topped the Phillies’ all-time hits list, and Schmidt is a Hall of Famer. The same goes for Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Roberto Clemente and others who are the all-time hits king for various major league teams.
See where I’m going? It’s time to start thinking of “Rollins” and “Cooperstown” in the same paragraph — if not the same sentence — for Rollins’ glowing resume that spans 15 years and counting.
Rollins smiled after a little pause.
“I was talking to my wife about this, and I was telling her that I thought it’s pretty funny how people are starting to mention the Hall of Fame as if I’ve announced my retirement and the debate is up,” Rollins said.
Rollins is among the Phils’ growing number of senior citizens (well, by baseball standards) at 35. That said, his career still has a ways to go, because he remains a solid contributor at shortstop, in the batter’s box and around the clubhouse.
Here’s another thing: Except for an injury-plagued 2010 season, Rollins has been among the game’s most durable players, which means he’ll only add to his baseball legacy that includes four Gold Gloves, a National League MVP Award, three trips to the All-Star Game, a Silver Slugger Award, a stolen-base title and a World Series championship ring.
Sounds like Barry Larkin. OK, OK. Larkin’s career batting average of .295 is nearly 30 points higher than Rollins’. Not only that, Larkin finished with nine more All-Star Game appearances and eight more Silver Slugger Awards. But Rollins is already close to Larkin’s hits total of 2,340, and Rollins already has more home runs than Larkin and significantly more stolen bases.
Larkin is in the Hall of Fame, though.
As for Rollins, just wait.
“When Barry went into Cooperstown, my agent sent me Barry’s numbers, and my agent just said, ‘Look,’ and I was like, ‘Wow,'” said Rollins, suggesting he likely was seeing his future before his very eyes. “I followed Barry [while growing up in Oakland], but I didn’t know his numbers in depth. I knew that his Cincinnati Reds beat my A’s [in the 1990 World Series], and I knew he was a great player, and I knew he was the first 30-30 shortstop [regarding home runs and stolen bases for a season]. But when you’re young, you see this great shortstop, and you just try to emulate somebody like that.
“Now, all of these comparisons involving the two of us are starting to come into view, but I never bothered to look at them.
“I mean, that’s Barry Larkin.”
Just like this is Jimmy Rollins, who is evolving into a modern-day Larkin despite standing only slightly taller than your average Louisville Slugger. Rollins is 5-foot-8 after standing on his toes, and depending on whether he takes the scale wearing his uniform, along with cleats, cap, batting gloves and several pairs of sweat socks, he weighs 180 pounds. Barely.
By comparison, Rollins’ peers are Goliaths.
“I came up during the Derek Jeter era (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), which was like coming up during the Michael Jordan era in basketball, and that means everything steps down from there,” Rollins said. “I was that hybrid shortstop, and you have to go back to the Larry Bowa era, when shortstops hit the ball the other way, and then they beat it out. Then came Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin, who could hit for power, but they still had to play a good defensive shortstop.
“Then we started getting back to the 5-foot-10ish guys, and they hit for some power, and they played good defense, but they also had speed. You had to be close to that entire package, and I was part of that group.”
Rollins was … except for the 5-foot-10ish part. No wonder he once set a limit on the length of his baseball career.
“When I was 22 years old, I said I’d like to play until I’m 38, and that would be 16 years,” Rollins said. “But when you’re 22, 38 is a long ways away. I’m 35 now, and I feel good. I just do. I feel like I’ve got so many years ahead of me. I’m in great enough shape to the point where I can still play shortstop. I can still steal bases. I can still play the game at a high level. So, when they say I can’t put on this uniform anymore, that’s when I’ll say I’m ready to retire.”
By then, Rollins will swing his way into even more exclusive circles than the ones he already populates: Sitting with Larkin in that rare 30-30 club regarding homers and stolen bases during a season. Ranking as one of 19 players with at least 400 doubles, 100 triples and 200 home runs. Sitting fourth on the all-time list for leadoff homers with 46.
“I still have work to do,” Rollins said. “I want to be a Hall of Famer, no doubt about it, but when I announce my retirement someday, I’ll take one more year to do what I have to do. Then everybody can look back at my total body of work, and then the argument for me [in Cooperstown] can begin.”
Says here, it will be a winning argument.
Reprinted by permission.
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