Perhaps it was the clashing of personalities with manager Larry Bowa. Or maybe it was the comment made by front office member Dallas Green. Or maybe it was the desire to win that ended it all in Philadelphia.
Whatever the reason was, Scott Rolen wanted out in 2002.
For the next decade, Philadelphia fans would boo their once-lauded All-Star, Gold-Glove third baseman, yell obscenities at him and watch him go on to hav a successful career without Philadelphia. Why? Because they were hurt.
But maybe the fans were booing the wrong guy.
Rolen turned down a massive contract extension during the 2002 season, saying that it wasn’t money but the Phillies front office didn’t have an aggressive approach to building a winning team.
Fans got scared that the best position player in their team history since Mike Schmidt, another third baseman, was about to jump ship for greener pastures.
And it happened.
Like a lot of kids in South Jersey I grew up a Phillies fan.
My first real memory of the Phillies came when I was five, or to the rest of Phillies Nation, 1993. I don’t remember the pain of Joe Carter’s home run in the World Series off Mitch Williams but I do remember how fun that team was.
There was Krukker (John Kruk), the Dude or Nails (Lenny Dykstra), and Dutch (Darren Daulton). But there was also Inky.
Pete Incaviglia was my first favorite Phillie. I still don’t know why, but perhaps it was just the name, the beard, the belly and the mullet.
The next four years would be a little blurry for me.
In 1997 I was starting little league as a 9-year-old and didn’t really have a position I wanted to play. But still being an impressionable kid who loved the Phillies, a certain rookie third baseman grabbed my attention.
I wanted to make diving stops like him, hit like him and run the bases like him. Unfortunately I sucked as a little leaguer, struck out more than and armless Ryan Howard and fielded like a blind Ty Wigginton.
But it didn’t stop me from wanting to be like Scott Rolen.
I still have all the baseball cards (about 60 of them) with Rolen on them. I still have a signed photo of Rolen hanging in my bedroom of when he was just a prospect. I still have my shirsey of Rolen as well.
But the most prized possession I own: a baseball I had signed by Rolen.
I don’t remember the year but it had to be between 1999 and 2001. It was an off-day for the Phillies and Rolen was in Atlantic City. We had an Independent League baseball team here and Rolen decided to attend the game.
Long story short (saving the dramatics), I so happened to be at the game. I saw Rolen sitting by himself, approached him between innings with a baseball and a cheap pen and asked him to sign it for me.
Rolen obliged to the younger me, I thanked him, and that was the only interaction with the player I mirrored during my baseball career through high school.
Unfortunately, due to that cheap pen, the signature has faded over the years. Even though the signature on the ball may be fading and I have to keep it covered, that memory still burns strong.
The Phillies had to make a trade in order to get some sort of compensation in return for Rolen’s departure.
Instead of pointing the finger at Ed Wade and David Montgomery, the fans pointed their collective finger at a disgruntled 27-year-old Rolen, who after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, referred to the town in the midwest as “baseball heaven.”
Rolen was right.
The Cardinals had a good corps of players including a 22-year-old phenom named Albert Pujols, another hated player to Phillies fans in J.D. Drew, and veterans Tino Martinez and Jim Edmonds. St. Louis also boasted a fervent baseball town with passionate fans who supported their team, not with boos and insults, but with support and love.
It was a dream scenario for Rolen, who didn’t have to be the star player in St. Louis. For it was Dallas Green’s remarks that Rolen was trying to do so much and be the thing that he wasn’t – a leader.
Two years after Rolen’s arrival, the Cardinals would dominate in the playoffs and get to the 2004 World Series.
Rolen found himself to be a hero on that Cardinals team.
In Game 7 of the NLCS, Rolen’s two-run homer in the 6th inning against the Houston Astros and starting pitcher Roger Clemens sent the Red Birds to the Fall Classic, only to meet the fate-driven Boston Red Sox.
After a historic Game 7 win to complete a comeback after trailing 3-0 in the series, Boston swept the Cardinals in the World Series to break their 86-year curse.
Rolen only tasted success. Two years later he would finally get it.
The Cardinals would have another crack at a World Championship, this time in 2006. They dominated the Detroit Tigers in five games, winning their 10th title and first since 1982.
Rolen finally got his ring. He was in heaven. “Baseball heaven” to be exact.
But a series of back and shoulder problems that escalated the year prior would spell out the rest of Rolen’s career.
A part of the reason Rolen was so great was how he played with reckless abandon.
Unfortunately, that style of play would play a huge factor in the quick regression of his body for the last eight years of his career. From 2005-2012, Rolen only played more than 125 games three times (2006, 2009, 2010).
Rolen missed most of 2005 with back and shoulder injuries that were first created from his time playing in Philadelphia. Playing on the concrete-like carpet they called turf at Veterans Stadium, Rolen’s back and shoulders took a pounding with each diving stop he made.
The injuries would plague him for the rest of his career but they didn’t really start to kick in until he went to Toronto in 2008.
Rolen played 203 games in a season and a half with Toronto, hitting .288 before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds where he finished his career.
Rolen went to the post season two more times with the Reds. But his post season trips didn’t end the way he would have wanted them.
In 2010, he was struck out by Phillies starter Cole Hamels to end Game 3, capping off an NLDS sweep at the hands of his former team.
This season spelled more doom for Rolen.
His Game 3 error in the 9th inning allowed the tying run to score for the San Francisco Giants, keeping them alive in the series. And in Game 5, despite having a two-hit game, Rolen struck out with two men on while trailing 6-4 to end the game and eliminate the Reds after boasting the second best record in baseball.
That last at-bat would turn into the last of Scott Rolen the baseball world would ever see.
Through 17 seasons with four teams, Rolen was a life time .281 hitter with 2077 hits, 316 home runs and 1287 RBIs. He was the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, a seven-time All-Star (2002-2006, 2010-2011), an eight-time Gold Glover (1998, 2000-2004, 2006, 2010), 2002 Silver Slugger and a 2006 World Champion.
Though his career isn’t Hall of Fame worthy thanks to the injuries, it left a lasting mark in the hearts of Phillies fans whether they want it to or not.
Because as was written on this site earlier in the year and in Todd Zolecki’s and Jim Salisbury’s book “The Rotation”, Rolen was one of the main reasons the Phillies changed their stance on how they build a championship team.
Granted that last part is still only an opinion, it’s an accepted belief logically that the Phillies changed their methods after Rolen wanted out of the City of Brotherly Love.
The following year, Jim Thome and David Bell were signed and Kevin Millwood was acquired through trade with Atlanta. In following years, the Phillies would win a World Series in 2008 and go after free agents like Roy Halladay (2009) and Cliff Lee (2010) as well as trade guys like Lee (2009), Roy Oswalt (2010) and Hunter Pence (2011).
The reason for this post is because Rolen is leaning towards retirement. This post was to highlight the most important moment of his 17-year career, which started in Philadelphia and ended in Cincinatti.
The last at-bat of Rolen’s I ever got to see was on May 24, 2011.
It was the 19th inning of a ridiculous game between the Reds and Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Rolen was plunked by Phillies infielder-turned-pitcher Wilson Valdez in the top of the 19th, the last time I would ever see Rolen play. (I went to a Reds/Phillies game this season but Rolen wasn’t in the lineup and never batted.)
As a fan of Rolen’s – and an apologist at that – I would like to thank his presence in baseball. I learned a lot about the sport just by watching athletes like Rolen, Cal Ripken Jr, Ken Griffey Jr and Chase Utley play the game the right way.
Though Rolen’s career won’t land him in Cooperstown like the latter three, it’s a storied career that hopefully one day will be remembered and honored by the Phillies organization.
Players like Curt Schilling, Bobby Abreu and Rolen are all in the same boat. They did fantastic things while wearing a Phillies uniform but their legacies are tainted by bad memories and unfair judgements from the fanbase and front office.
But you better believe that I will be in Philadelphia the day Rolen is finally honored, wearing that same tattered Rolen shirsey and beautiful grey Rolen jersey I recently purchased.
Thank you, Scott Rolen. Congratulations on a wonderful career and thank you for all the memories.