The Phillies this past week unveiled their nominees for the Wall of Fame induction ceremony this coming August (you can vote here). At this point, they are merely looking to secure five “official” nominees from a list of ten to put on a ballot that will be used by the fans. Once the season begins, we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of parsing through the candidates to determine which former great will get to have his face emblazoned on a plaque that the average fan can stare out before being shooed away by security before a game begins. I would list the ten players that are officially nominees, but as wonderful a career as they had, guys like Gene Garber are not getting into the Wall of Fame this year. This ballot basically comes down to two players, with one very clear option to choose from.
Now before I let you know who those two players are that will duke it out over the summer, let me present you with a chart. This is something that will compare these two players in their tenure here as Phillies. It’s, uh, well....it’s a bit of a mismatch.
Player A vs. Player B
See, I told you.
While the plate appearances disparity is rather large, it’s close enough that we can safely compare apples to apples. You can see that Player A was a clearly better player during his time in Philadelphia, while Player B seems to have barely made a dent. Even though WAR is a flawed measurement, a 28 point difference shows that the two players really weren’t close. Who are these mystery players, you ask?
Player A is Scott Rolen.
Player B is Pete Rose.
The more astute Phillies fans already knows how good of a player Rolen was while he was here, but when we stop and consider him for the esteemed Wall of Fame, we can reflect on just how good of a player he actually was while wearing the red pinstripes.
When he arrived, Rolen was instantly the best player on a moribund team. Thanks to an injury in 1996 that prevented him from accumulating the required at bats necessary to lose his rookie status, he was able to field and hit his way to a stellar 1997 season (.283/.377/.469 with 21 HR and a 121 OPS+) that led to his claiming the Rookie of the Year award. From there, he would go on to post OPS+ marks in the 120’s and higher, making him the hands down best player in South Philadelphia during his time period. His above average offense and stellar defense created a mainstay in the Phillies lineup that they had been missing since the days of Daulton and Kruk.
Alas, contract squabbles and discontent led to his ouster from the town for Placido Polanco and a few throw ins that never amounted to anything. He turned down a 10 year, $140 million contract to basically be a Phillie for life due to a lack of faith in management’s desire to win, leading to his relocating to the greatest baseball city in the country (unless you disagree with the fans, in which case you need to “stick to baseball”, right Dexter?). He would go on to win a World Series in St. Louis in 2006 before his career became a steady stroll to the disabled list for a litany of injuries that derailed his express train ride to Cooperstown.
The other player fans can decide on for the honor is Pete Rose. This season, the team has finally gained permission from the commissioner’s office to put Rose up for consideration for election to the team’s Wall of Fame. This will obviously tug at many heart strings of older Phillies’ fans who feel Rose should be in the MLB Hall of Fame, and will cause them to lead with their hearts instead of their heads. After all, we’ve already been subjected to pieces about how Rose is the greatest free agent signing in team history, and with that come trips down memory lane about how Rose led the team to victory that had eluded them for nearly 100 years. Rose was an important part of the 1980 championship roster, one that many players on that squad point to as the leader of the team and one that put them over the top. However, I urge you readers, resist. If the election to the team’s Wall of Fame is about selecting the best player available, Rolen is that clear choice. Here’s why.
1. The Overrated Tenure of Pete Rose
This is probably the most controversial position I hold. In the above article about Rose’s coming to Philadelphia, it mentions a lot of about how Rose was able to “chew out” players that might have needed it, how he was a “leader”. This is not up for debate. Rose brought a swagger to the team that it was clearly lacking at the time, and quite possibly pushed them over the edge to become eventual world champions. In TGP writer John Stolnis’ podcast about the above article, he spoke with Kevin Cooney who also talked about how Rose was in the locker room that year, providing a counterbalance to the gruff style of manager Dallas Green. Rose’s presence on the roster was definitely something the team needed to get that extra push.
Yet look at his actual impact on that championship team while on the field. While he was a great player in 1979 (130 OPS+), the following season saw him dip to a 94 OPS+ while providing below average defense at first base. Sure, he led the league in doubles, but other than that, there are no other standout features Rose provided to the team.
He just wasn’t that good that year.
When you also consider that the roster contained two Hall of Fame players, three above average position players and a more than competent pitching staff, it makes you think that maybe this team would have won a championship eventually without Rose. In fact, you could make a fairly good argument that his presence on the roster actually cost the team another championship in 1983, when he bottomed out with the team to the tune of a 69 OPS+.
*Ed. note: He actually had a good postseason, but what could have been with another, more productive first baseman?
It’s difficult to project a team’s performance in the future, especially since we can’t forecast injuries, ineffectiveness, etc., but we can look at the talent in place and under control at the time. We also cannot measure a player’s impact on the locker room since human emotion in a game like baseball is not quantifiable. Instead, we rely on the countless players reminiscing about how Rose “showed them how to win”. This is wonderful and many older Phillies fans are thankful that he did help win a championship. However, it isn’t that difficult to see that his actual impact is probably a bit overstated. As you can see from the above table, he was a barely average offensive talent while in Philadelphia. Yet because of his flair for hustle and helmet that fell off quite often, it has left many people with an incorrect memory of just how good he was while in Philadelphia.
2. How Do You Feel about Rolen?
From this standpoint, Scott Rolen will never be remembered as fondly as he should be in this city. Many people saw him as a surly malcontent, intent on getting out of here as fast as possible. Others might see him as a Hall of Fame talent who needed to get off of the Veterans Stadium turf in order to preserve that track with all of his body parts intact. However you feel about Rolen, there is no denying that he is one of the team’s all time greats. According to Baseball Reference, he is the third best third baseman in the team’s history (29.5), which of course stretches over 130+ years. He’s the 17th best hitter by WAR in team history, even though he has the second shortest tenure among those above him on the list (only Billy Hamilton was with the team for a shorter time from 1890-1895). Besides, all should be forgiven at this point once his viewpoint about his contract situation is taken into better account.
This, though, is where Rolen will lose a lot of votes among those plan on clicking through the list, especially compared to Rose. The most damning argument against Rolen is that he did not win a championship here; Rose did. Rolen played with a certain quiet intensity; Rose was flashy and emotional on the field. Philadelphia has always loved those players who can back up their showmanship with production on the field. Show little enthusiasm and a player will hear boos.
However, look at the talent that each was surrounded with. While Rose could look to his left and see names like Schmidt, Maddox and Carlton, Rolen would see players like Mark Portugal and Desi Relaford. It’s a total mismatch when it comes to the players each one got to play with. That lack of talent was a driving force in Rolen’s desire to leave the team. He said as much here.
Yes, later on, Rolen was joined by Bobby Abreu and Curt Schilling, but this was also the era of the Braves and bloated payrolls. While teams like the Mets and Dodgers were buying players and wins, the Phillies counted their pennies in the bowels of the Vet. When Rolen called out ownership in public, it caused many people to turn their backs on him, calcifying their belief that athlete’s should just pipe down since they were making more than the average fan can ever dream about. Rolen wanted to win first and foremost, and forced his way out to a place that fulfilled that burning need he had. His desire to leave a team that wouldn’t spend left a bad taste in many a fan’s mouth then, and will probably do so again come August.
3. Philadelphia, Not Cincinnati
When it comes to voting, it is important to know that this is not the MLB Hall of Fame, nor is it the Queen City. This is the Phillies Wall of Fame, meaning that we need to consider each player’s time in Philadelphia only when it comes to voting. And as you can clearly see above, Rolen was much better here than Rose ever was.
When news broke that Rose would be allowed to join the ballot, many writers immediately went in the direction of the possibility to honor Rose for his “leadership” he brought to the table. That’s all well and good, but again, I just can’t gloss over the fact that he wasn’t as good as people think they remember him being while on the team. He was a great player with the Cincinnati Reds, much deserving of the honor he received last year when he was inducted into their Hall of Fame. Yet that is where Rose created his legacy, cementing himself as one of the main cogs of the Big Red Machine with his ability to average 206 hits a season. Here, he just didn’t do enough to jump ahead of Rolen on this year’s ballot.
Look, I know that with many fans, the issue will be that Rose won while Rolen did not, and that is not something that should be taken lightly, I will concede. Is it enough to tip the scales of voting in Rose’s favor more than Rolen? More than likely, it will be. It’s pretty obvious just from a brief glance at Twitter that that will be the main point of voting here among Phillies fans, but it should not be. As I stated before, Rose was more likely to win a championship here because of the nucleus he was joining already. A quote that Todd Zolecki uses in the above article about Rose’s free agency tour attests to that:
But I thought the team sitting on the powder keg was the Phillies. They were the closest team to get where I wanted to be at that stage of my life, and that was the World Series.
He wanted another ring and saw his best chance was in Philadelphia. Can’t blame him for that.
Nevertheless, I implore you. Judge the players by their career as a whole while a Phillie. It will help you join me in my crusade to say #NoToRose, and to go #RollinWithRolen.