Shortstop: Making the case for Jimmy Rollins as Phillies best
Hanging on the wall of the Phillies' staff lunch room at Bright House Field is a slightly faded poster commemorating the franchise's all-centennial team that was selected in 1983. The shortstop: Larry Bowa.
No surprise there. And until the beginning of this century, there was no real argument on the subject.
There's not much argument anymore, either, that Jimmy Rollins has supplanted Bowa at the top of the Phillies' list.
"The Phillies have had a pretty good array of shortstops. But I think you'd be hard-pressed to find one better than Jimmy," said unofficial team historian Rich Westcott, author of six books about the team. "I mean, he was the MVP [in 2007]. The Phillies haven't had any other shortstops who have done that. Plus he's shown that he hits for average, he can hit for power, he's a great fielder."
Bowa was clearly a sparkplug player and played an important role the last time the Phillies were consistent contenders, starting in the mid-1970s and through the early 1980s.
"Larry Bowa's career accomplishments – both offensively and defensively – and his total value to the Phillies' great teams of his era cannot be minimized," said current Astros and former Phillies general manager Ed Wade. "Bo stood out at a time when a number of great shortstops populated the game. But Jimmy brings a game-changing offensive element that will probably move him to the top of the list."
But while defense was Bowa's greatest strength, it might come as a surprise to some to realize that he won only two Gold Gloves. Rollins has already matched that and also has a higher lifetime fielding percentage (.982 to .980) while playing the large majority of his games on grass-and-dirt. Bowa starred during baseball's unlamented artificial turf era, when ground balls tended to take truer hops.
And, offensively it's not even a contest.
Rollins is one of only four players — and the only infielder — in history with 20 doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases in the same season. He's 30 years old and already has 1,461 career hits and 295 stolen bases. He's hit 125 homers, more than any shortstop in franchise history.
"He can do more things," current Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I saw Larry and Larry was tremendous with the glove and a big student of the game. But this guy here, he outhits him in about every category. Both of them are good shortstops. Defensively, there's an argument. It's close. But all-around ability? Rollins has him beat."
Added former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi: "I don't think teams win consistently unless they have a leadoff hitter that's pretty damn good. You can go back, when we won [in 1993], Lenny Dykstra had a great year. If you don't get somebody on base for those boppers, you can maneuver around your 3-4 guys."
From Lee Elia, who worked closely with Bowa both as a Phillies coach and Cubs manager:
"At the time I had Bowa — I coached him, I managed him and I hired him as my third-base coach in Chicago — he was probably as smart a ballplayer as you could find. But you never knew it because of the peripheral stuff he brought to the ballpark. Jimmy is becoming a smart player, too. They're both switch-hitters. When you've got a guy with [2,191] hits, the other guy's got to get there, in my eyes."
To be considered the Phillies' best shortstop, Jimmy Rollins would be judged against these five:
1. Larry Bowa. Fifth on the organization's all-time hit list, he was clearly the grit for the Phillies clubs that started making the playoffs with regularity beginning in 1976.
2. Granny Hamner: Spent all but 27 games of his career (1944-59) with the Phillies. Three-time All-Star with four top 25 finishes in the MVP balloting.
3. Dave Bancroft: Future Hall of Famer spent first 5-plus years (1915-20) of his career with Phillies. Compiled .355 career on-base percentage.
4. Dick Bartell: Phillies regular from 1931 to '34 with .295 batting average and two top 25 MVP finishes in that span.
5. Mickey Doolan: Phillies regular for 9 straight years (1905-13).
LARRY BOWA ON JIMMY ROLLINS
"He's as good as anybody playing right now. He's taken it to another level. He's so focused and he doesn't give up any at-bats.
"Oh, yeah, he's better than I was. He's a great player. I was a good player. There's nothing he can't do. If you need a home run, he can hit a home run. If you need a stolen base, he can steal a base. If you need a play made, he can make the play. He makes that team go. In everything. Offense and defense. If anybody went down for as long period of time, he's the one they'd miss the most.
"I knew right away he was going to be better than me. Jimmy, when he first came up, was like anybody else. Me included. You had to get your point across. Then you get older and you start having some success. It's a maturation process.
"I'm happy to say that he's better than me. You keep passing the baton on. That's how this game goes. No matter how good you are, somebody's going to come along and be better. It won't happen overnight but, eventually, somebody else is going to come along and people will say he's better than Jimmy Rollins. But right now there's never been anybody better.
"If there's one area where he's shocked me, it's the amount of home runs he hits. I know Citizens Bank Park is small, but he still hits a lot of home runs. I thought he might hit 10 to 15 a year. He's already hit 30 in a season.
"I get a great kick out of the fact that I had a chance to manage him, to see him mature. I'm just real proud of my association with this kid. Just to see him grow. Now I think that winning is the most important thing to him, and that's what you really like to see."