There is no greater honor in sports than for a team to retire a player’s number. The Philadelphia Phillies have just seven numbers retired, a relatively selective group considering it is one of the oldest franchises in Major League Baseball. One of their policies for this honor, however, needs to change.
In the 1990s, the Phillies made the decision that only Hall of Fame players can have their number retired. There has only been one exception, Dick Allen, in the three decades since. On the surface, it seems like a reasonable policy – if you’re good enough to be in the Hall, you’re good enough to have your number retired. But the policy has a major flaw in that it leaves the highest honor the franchise can bestow in the hands of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. As we have seen through the release of ballots this year, this group of people have a hard time agreeing on who to induct. Unless a player is a no-brainer, like Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter, who knows what the BBWAA will decide? The Hall is getting smaller, and for that reason many players who should be genuine considerations are barely getting a second year on the ballot.
Maybe a shrinking Hall of Fame isn’t a bad thing, or maybe it is. That isn’t the point of this article. The point is that the Phillies organization has decided to leave the candidacy for its retired numbers up to a group of people who mostly do not cover the Phillies themselves. It’s a bizarre policy that has the potential to leave some of the franchise’s greatest players unqualified for the greatest honor. Truly think about it: How is it that Roy Halladay’s number is retired but Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard are all not?
Now, I don’t want to take away from what Roy Halladay accomplished, both with the Phillies and in his entire career. He created some of the best memories in recent years, including his perfect game and playoff no-hitter. By all means, he had a Hall of Fame career and was a valuable asset to the Phillies when he was here. That’s why he was elected to the Hall of Fame itself. But when you look at what he accomplished with the Phillies specifically compared to when he was with the Blue Jays, the argument for his #34 to be retired was a bit contrived.
In four years, he went 55-29 with a 3.25 ERA, 122 ERA+, 18 complete games, 5 shutouts, and 622 strikeouts. Plus, the aforementioned perfect game and postseason no hitter. Without a doubt, he was a great player. But was that really enough to warrant his name among the likes of Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, and Steve Carlton in franchise history?
Now compare his contributions to what Jimmy Rollins gave the City of Philadelphia and its fans in 15 seasons: 2090 games played, 2306 hits, 1325 runs scored, 479 doubles, 111 triples, 216 home runs, 887 RBI, 453 stolen bases, and a career 47.6 WAR. He won an MVP, a Silver Slugger, and 4 Gold Gloves, and represented the Phillies three times as an All Star. He’s the all-time franchise leader in both hits and doubles. He holds the single season record in at bats (716 in 2007) and the franchise record for longest hitting streak (36 games in 2005). He also stands second in games played and stolen bases, third in triples and runs scored, sixth in walks, eighth in RBIs, and ninth in home runs.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that he was the de facto leader of the 2007-2011 era. It was his bold “team to beat” declaration that sparked the 2007 team to play with something to prove. Their unexpected success that season gave them confidence going into the 2008 season and inspired them to back-to-back National League Championships, and of course the 2008 World Series title. Jimmy Rollins defines that era of Phillies baseball and is without a doubt one of the greatest players in franchise history. He deserves to be held in the same regard as Schmidt, Roberts, and Carlton. Anything short of honoring him by retiring number 11 would be an insult to his legacy.
Yet, the Phillies are outsourcing his qualification to the BBWAA.
The biggest shame is that, of the 2008 World Series Championship team, Rollins and Utley are the two players with the best chance at being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and with the Hall getting smaller, their chances at making it are dwindling. If neither of them gets elected, this shortsighted policy will rob Phillies fans of the opportunity to celebrate and honor in perpetuity what these individuals were able to accomplish.
Furthermore, apart from Halladay, it has been over 30 years since the last player to have their number retired has donned a Phillies uniform. There are two entire generations of Phillies fans who have cheered for the team, witnessed its highest of highs and lowest of lows, and deserve the opportunity to honor players that they actually watched. To paraphrase something that John Stolnis once said, is it really possible that only one person who played since Mike Schmidt retired in 1989 is deserving of having their number retired? The franchise has only won two World Series Championships in its history, is no one from that 2008 team worthy of being honored with a jersey retirement if the BBWAA decides they aren’t Hall of Fame players?
There are arguably few players in franchise history who deserve this honor more than Rollins, Utley, and Howard, and most if not all of them are already part of that elusive club. An asinine policy shouldn’t stand in their way. For the good of the franchise, it’s time for the Phillies to change the rules.