Jimmy Rollins is the best shortstop in Phillies history. He has won a World Series, an MVP award, four Gold Gloves and now leads the franchise in hits. He is also resilient, honest and charming. There’s really only one thing he lacks after 14 seasons here — the love of the fans.
Oh, he absorbed an outpouring of affection over the weekend when he surpassed Mike Schmidt’s record of 2,234 hits, and the man known as J-Roll deserved every cheer, every accolade. No one is more responsible for the most successful era in Phillies baseball than Rollins.
But the majority of Phillies fans don’t love the guy, not in the head-over-heels way they love Chase Utley or Harry Kalas. Since 2000, I have taken thousands of calls on my WIP radio show about Rollins, and there is no question he has polarized our city more in that period than any other star player, including Donovan McNabb and Allen Iverson.
Basically, Rollins tainted his legacy with two serious blunders. The first, of course, is his infamous lack of hustle. Former manager Charlie Manuel benched him a couple of times for not running hard, but only when the laziness cost the team a base-runner, only when the fielder muffed the ball. To fans, the countless times that Rollins cheated himself and his team without punishment were equally damaging.
There are many crimes in sports for which star players are forgiven here, but not playing hard is unpardonable in a blue-collar place like Philadelphia. That’s why Utley will always be more beloved than Rollins, and why Pete Rose remains a hero here, but a pariah to the rest of baseball.
The second mistake is a subtler one. Rollins has admitted over the past two seasons that he would never consider leaving the Phillies — he has a no-trade clause — before he set the record for hits. Fans have no problem with a player aiming for team goals, but they cringe at those who openly seek individual milestones.
Philadelphia sports fans are really not complicated at all. They want to win — which Rollins has done — and they want the players to care as much as they do. When J-Roll didn’t run hard and when he worried about his own stats, they sensed less than a full commitment to team success. An Internet poll I conducted last week at WIP showed that 70 percent of Phillies fans were not excited about the new record.
Jimmy Rollins will be the best Phillies shortstop for a long, long time, and he will probably hold the hits record for generations, too. The one thing he will not have is the one thing he didn’t earn here in Philadelphia – the love of the fans. For that, he has only himself to blame.