If we’re able to look past ballot construction squabbles, baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot offers a chance, every year, to open a time capsule. New waves of first-time candidates give us fresh crops of memories year-in and year-out. This year, we have the chance to reflect on the uniqueness of Vladimir Guerrero, the defensive majesty of Andruw Jones, and the various, needling, Phillies-killing moments produced by Johnny Damon, Chris Carpenter and Hideki Matsui.
Just as every year gives us some borderline-or-better candidates, so, too, does it give us the surefire one-and-dones. You see examples of each just a paragraph above. The Phillies, for their part, lack a face-of-the-franchise-caliber candidate on this year’s ballot, but that doesn’t mean they’re without time capsules of their own. In fact, in somewhat poetic fashion, three candidates with the strongest ties to Philadelphia all happen to represent three very distinct times and attitudes in Phillies history, and all within a single decade.
The Id: Scott Rolen
The first developmental step in the psychic apparatus, as Freud would posit, is the id: The need-focused, instinctual part of our selves focused on satisfaction as derived from acting on impulse. So, too, was Scott Rolen the first step in the developmental process of what would eventually become the 2008 World Series championship team.
To call Rolen “impulsive” would be a bit unfair; he made it six Major League seasons before forcing ownership’s hand into trading him. Rolen, as some of a newer generation of Phillies fans may be unaware, refused to sign one of two contract extensions offered to him before the 2002 season: One was for seven years and $90 million, the other for 10 years and $140 million. Rolen, discontent with ownership’s effort toward building a championship-worthy team - the 2001 Phillies finished second in the NL East, but produced a rather limp effort at improving during the 2001-2002 offseason - made it known he intended to enter free agency after ‘02 concluded.
This was a harsh reality to accept for fans who’d seen Rolen elevate himself into the highest echelon of third basemen during his short time in the Majors. From 1997 (his first full season and Rookie of the Year-winning campaign) through 2001, Rolen averaged a .286/.378/.514 line, 26 homers and 95 RBI to go with standout defense that helped him win three Gold Gloves. He, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu were all 27 or younger during the 2001 season and could have been lineup mainstays for years. Alas, none of them could pitch, and the deficiencies of the pitching staff certainly did little to quell Rolen’s discontent.
The merit of Rolen’s claims and the handling of his situation, from ownership’s spending to Manager Larry Bowa’s personal affront at Rolen’s stance, are things that may never produce a universal opinion, or even majority favor. He may yet be destined to live in reputational purgatory, deprived both of coronation or total condemnation by Phillies fans, and his early Hall of Fame vote totals may reflect that same notion on a larger scale.
But bad blood aside, it is Rolen and his request to depart that best embody the very beginning of the Phillies’ transformation. Though we can’t exactly label that transaction the phasing out of the old guard, seeing as Rolen was just 27 when he was shipped away, we can absolutely say that those two-plus months spent out from under the cloud of tension condensed by the entire situation primed the pump for what was about to come.
Now, it would’ve been better to have this part of the story end with the return the Phils received from St. Louis in that infamous July trade forming the next nucleus of the team, but that turned out to be too much to ask of Placido Polanco, Bud Smith and Mike Timlin. Instead, the event of Rolen’s departure must be monolithic unto itself, his subsequent flourishing with the Cardinals left a bitter pill without a sugary chaser. That is, at least, until the following December.
The Ego: Jim Thome
The id’s natural complement, the ego, sets to fulfill the impulsive desires of its counterpart in rational, practical ways. The focus is far more long-term than short-term. Enter Jim Thome, the bellwether of the modernized Phillies of the aughts, the heralded champion of a transformational era. Whether this pursuit was always in the works or sparked by Rolen’s challenge, Thome’s signing immediately changed minds across the baseball landscape about just how frugal - or content - the Phillies might be.
It was accepted almost immediately that Thome wouldn’t see the end of his deal in a Phillies uniform. Giving the 32-year-old six guaranteed years (with a vesting seventh) was the competitive tax the club had to pay to try and undo what the Rolen fiasco had wrought upon its appeal. It was far, far more exciting, though, to look at what Thome had accomplished in his time with Cleveland, and in 2002 in particular: .304/.445/.677 with 52 home runs. That’s an almost mythical 1.122 OPS and 197 OPS+ which, in a true sign of the times, was only good enough for seventh place in AL MVP voting.
Thome’s arrival deposed Travis Lee, one of the last remaining knights of the Curt Schilling Trade Roundtable, whose unremarkable two-year tenure with the Phillies yielded 19 fewer total homers than Thome had hit in 2002 alone. Thome’s first two years with the Phillies - thematically encompassing the end of the Veterans Stadium era and the beginning of the Citizens Bank Park era - came as advertised. His 89 homers and 236 RBI were tied for second-most (behind only Barry Bonds) and standalone sixth-most, respectively, over those two years. His 2005 injury and Ryan Howard’s emergence, incidentally far less a tangential, glancing blow of a concurrence than Thome’s succession of Rolen, was the confluence that eventually precipitated the early exit so many foresaw at the time of his signing.
Thome was never going to play on the same Phillies team with Rolen; these two slices of persona were always doomed to be tangents in franchise history. Although they never intersected, Thome always felt like the yin to Rolen’s yang, the positive force both on and off the field to offset the morass Rolen left in his wake. But the poetic thread connecting this trio extends even still, for the last guaranteed year of Thome’s huge deal (even though he spent it with the White Sox) just so happened to be 2008.
The Superego: Brad Lidge
In contradiction to the id, the superego is the part of the psyche that works against impulsiveness. It takes the cues, incentives and disincentives brought upon by the actions of the id and the ego and uses them to guide its pursuit of “perfection.”
Well, isn’t that fitting.
Acquired with Eric Bruntlett for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo in November 2007, Lidge brought one of the most overpowering relief arms in the sport to the Philadelphia bullpen. Though he’d seen his homers and walks allowed tick up over the 2006 and 2007 seasons, he remained a prolific strikeout compiler. In the four seasons prior to joining the Phillies, Lidge struck out 452 of the 1,287 batters he faced across 307.1 IP, a strikeout rate just over 35 percent. His slider was a weapon akin in reputation to the one Andrew Miller wields today, albeit with an entirely different flight path. Adding him to a bullpen that had prominently featured the likes of Geary, Antonio Alfonseca, Tom Gordon and Jose Mesa in 2007 was a salve for a wound, to be sure.
What proceeded to happen, though, was something none of us could have expected or counted on: In 48 save situation appearances across the regular season and playoffs, Lidge did not blow a single one. While his season was hardly perfect on the whole, and he flirted with corrupting that perfect mark multiple times, Lidge bent but never broke. We’ll remember his year as perfect, regardless of whether it actually was. His year was the realization of what Rolen’s departure and Thome’s arrival made us believe could, actually, happen one day.
Rolen, Thome and Lidge never played a single game together, with the Phillies or otherwise, and yet they’ll forever be intertwined in franchise history. They link eras, bringing us through club history from low points to high, and tell a story of 10 years of baseball merely by mention of their names.
Thome will likely be elected to the Hall of Fame, if not this year then not long thereafter; Rolen faces an upward climb, but may find himself alongside Thome in Cooperstown in time; Lidge faces certain elimination from the ballot this year, almost assuredly a lock to fail to receive the necessary five percent of the vote to stay afloat. So, for this one year, we see all three of these men conjoined for a fleeting moment, stitched together in a way their playing careers never replicated. And it feels right to reflect on what each of them meant - and still means - to the Phillies and our fandom to this day.