Tag Archives: Scott Rolen

Defense a major problem as Phillies fight to hold on to NL East lead

Defense not a Phillies strong suit at present
Fans who have followed the Philadelphia Phillies closely this season continue to shake their heads in amazement that the club remains tied for first place in the National League East Division in late July.
Those fans who do more than simply watch news highlights and follow the results and standings know that the defensive baseball played by this team on a nightly basis is sloppy at best and can be downright atrocious at times.
It has been more than simply the easy-to-follow fielding and throwing errors. Passed balls, pick-offs thrown away, and wild attempts to throw out opposing runners as they try to steal a base have been part of the equation as well.
Errors of commission. Errors of omission. The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies have been guilty of it all on a far-too-frequent basis.
Still, there have been some defenders of this team and its defensive abilities. Every time that Odubel Herrera runs down a ball in the gap or makes a diving catch, some allude to his hustle and range. Maikel Franco bare hands a slow roller and guns out a runner at first base, there are comparisons to Mike Schmidt.
It’s frankly enough to make one wonder if these folks have actually ever seen a fundamentally strong defensive baseball team.
I was spoiled. I grew up on a Phillies team in the 1970’s which included the best collection of defensive talent at one time in franchise history. Schmidt at third base. Larry Bowa at shortstop. Manny Trillo at second base. Bob Boone behind the plate. Garry Maddox in center field.
Schmidt won 10 career Gold Gloves at the hot corner, including nine straight from 1976-84. Bowa won a pair and was robbed of maybe a half-dozen more by voters who were often swayed by offensive statistics in those years.
Maddox earned his moniker “The Secretary of Defense” by winning eight Gold Gloves in a row in center field from 1975-1982. “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. The rest is covered by Garry Maddox” was how bumper stickers of the day described his play.
In four seasons with the Phillies, Trillo captured a trio of Gold Gloves. Boone won his first pair of seven career Gold Gloves while with the Phillies.
You don’t have to go back that far, however, for great Phillies defensive play. One of my all-time favorite players was Scott Rolen. While some fans who were around in the early-2000’s will always hold a grudge against Rolen for his outspoken desire to get out of town, the fact is that he was one of the greatest defensive third basemen in the history of the game. Rolen won half of his eight career Gold Gloves during his Phillies years.
Jimmy Rollins has four Gold Glove Awards sitting at home on his crowded trophy shelf. Shane Victorino also has four, including three earned while patrolling center field at Citizens Bank Park with the Phillies.
So, you have to excuse me if I find this current group turning my stomach. Now, it’s easy to make off-hand comments calling these current Phillies a poor defensive team. But do the statistics back up such a claim? As it turns out, they do.
On Monday, prior to the opener of the current series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) revealed their Defensive Index rankings for the first half of the 2018 Major League Baseball season.
SABR describes the Defensive Index compilation process and significance as follows:

“The SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts. The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by noted sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended based on STATS Zone Rating and built by SABR Defensive Committee member Chris Dial. The two metrics included in the SDI originating from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by committee member Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.”

They also added that the SABR Defensive Index “accounts for approximately 25 percent of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process that will be added to the votes from the managers and coaches.
So how do the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies regulars stack up at their respective positions? If you guess “not too well”, you can count yourself a winner.
Forget the American League, and let’s see how the Phillies defenders rate when compared only to their counter-parts among the 15 clubs of the National League.
Players who have appeared as regular starters with this year’s Phillies team through games of July 15 were ranked within the NL as follows:
Jake Arrieta (9), Vince Velasquez (20), Nick Pivetta (28t), Aaron Nola (44t), Jorge Alfaro (9), Carlos Santana (6), Cesar Hernandez (12t), Scott Kingery (11), Franco (16), Rhys Hoskins (15), Herrera (13), Aaron Altherr (10t), Nick Williams(15).
The highest-ranked Phillies defender within his position is Santana. His defense was supposed to be one of the big selling points when he signed as a free agent last winter with a $60 million commitment over three years.
But the 32-year-old is only ranked 11th at the position when considering all big league first basemen. No longer in his prime, fans should not expect that Santana’s first-ever career Gold Glove Award will come as a member of the Phillies.
As a group, the team is ranked 14th of the 15 National League clubs in fielding percentage. They are in the middle of the MLB pack, tied for 17th, in double plays turned.
In last night’s 7-6 loss to the Dodgers, there were no official errors charged to the Phillies defense. But a pivotal ninth inning wild pitch was charged to reliever Seranthony Dominguez. It could just as easily have been ruled a passed ball against Alfaro. Maybe should have been ruled that way.
The Phillies are trying to build a sustained winner. Their current place in the MLB standings shows them ahead of schedule. If they wish to remain ahead of schedule and stay atop the divisional standings, changes will be needed to improve those defensive metrics. But when you’re winning, recognizing and acting on necessary change can prove to be a difficult proposition.
Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Phillies defense has been bad this year – really bad

Phillies to Immortalize Pete Rose on the Wall of Fame

The Philadelphia Phillies announced today that a baseball legend will become the 39th honoree on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
1980 World Series hero Pete Rose will be enshrined in a ceremony that will take place on Saturday, August 12, 2017. The ceremony will take place prior to a game against the division rival New York Mets.
On that night, numerous Phillies greats of the past who have been honored previously will return to take part in the ceremony. There they will welcome “Charlie Hustle” to the ranks of Phillies immortals.
Rose was one of 10 former Phillies greats who were originally nominated for the 2017 Wall of Fame slot. Fans of the team voted online at the start of the year from among 10 nominees to determine three finalists.


Joining Rose among those original 10 nominees were three of his 1980 champion teammates. One of those was second baseman Manny Trillo, the 1980 NLCS MVP. The others were starting pitcher Larry Christenson and reliever Ron Reed.
Two more relief pitchers, Gene Garber and 1987 Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian, were also nominated.
Another nominee was the late Jim Fregosi. He was the manager of the popular 1993 NL Pennant-winning Phillies team that electrified the city that summer and fall.
Rick Wise was a pitcher during the 1960’s and early-70’s who was traded straight-up for Wall of Famer Steve Carlton. He played longest ago for the Phils among the nominees, having first appeared on the infamous 1964 team. That Phillies team collapsed down the stretch, blowing the NL Pennant.
Among the most recent to play for the club and receive nominations were infielders Placido Polanco and Scott Rolen. The latter was the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year. Both players won Gold Glove Awards at third base while playing with the Phillies, Rolen on four occasions.


Rose was rumored to be one of the finalists. Most of all, he was rumored to be the top vote-getter with the fans by a wide margin. Today, the club made his selection official.

It’s official. Pete Rose is the 2017 Toyota Phillies Wall of Fame Inductee.

Rose is a no-doubt-about-it Baseball Hall of Famer based on the record. He is the game’s all-time Hit King, having amassed 4,256 total hits over a 24-year career in Major League Baseball.
Rose helped lead the ‘Big Red Machine’ Cincinnati Reds to back-to-back World Series crowns in 1975 and 1976. He was MVP of the 1975 classic seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox.
He was the 1963 NL Rookie of the Year, the 1973 National League Most Valuable Player, and a three-time NL batting champion. In addition, Rose won a pair of Gold Glove Awards, and was a 17x National League All-Star.


Following the 1978 season, Rose became a free agent. The Phillies had won three consecutive NL East crowns at that point. But that team, led by future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, had fallen short in the playoffs each year. Believing that leadership and winning experience were lacking, the club made Rose it’s first-ever big-ticket free agent signing that winter.
After an injury-marred 1979 season in which the Phils dropped from first place in May to a fourth place finish, the club rallied in 1980.
The Phillies held off the Montreal Expos on the final weekend of the regular season to clinch a fourth NL East crown in five years. Then the club fought past the Houston Astros in a grueling five game series that many believe is the greatest NLCS in history.
Finally, the Phillies held off a veteran Kansas City Royals squad in six games to win the first-ever World Series crown in franchise history. Rose hit .326 with a .431 during that 1980 postseason, and provided a signature moment with a hustling defensive play in the 9th inning of the clinching game of the Fall Classic.
As all baseball fans know, there is only one reason that Rose is not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. That would be the controversy surrounding his gambling on the sport. Due to this issue, Rose agreed to a suspension from the game. Therefore he was mostly out of the game in any official capacity for over two decades.


But last year, Major League Baseball allowed the Reds to honor Rose formally with a place in their team Hall of Fame. As a result, he was feted in a ceremony held in late June of 2016.
Rose was also a member of the Fox Sports crew analyzing the MLB postseason last Fall, joining Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas on what became a popular panel among fans of the game.
The Phillies received permission to consider him for their club Wall of Fame this off-season. As a result, they jumped at the chance to place Rose among this year’s nominees.
When the Reds announced that Rose would be honored, I wrote in a piece for FanSided’s “That Ball’s Outta Here” that the Phillies should do the same.

At that time I wrote: “for this fan who was around to see the obvious influence that Rose had in finally bringing a championship to Phillies fans, he is absolutely deserving of a plaque on that wall.”
I have no doubt that Citizens Bank Park will be see a full house for this summer’s upcoming Rose enshrinement. Finally, fans will be able to enjoy viewing and reading a Rose plaque on the Wall of Fame out on Ashburn Alley in center field.

Possible Future Non-2008 Phillies Wall of Famers

The Philadelphia Phillies honor the greatest players and other figures in franchise history with a place on their Wall of Fame.

In 1978, the Philadelphia Phillies began what has become one of the great traditions for this now 134-year-old franchise. 
That summer the Phils honored “Whiz Kids” pitcher and Baseball Hall of Famer Robin Roberts as the initial inductee into the Phillies Wall of Fame.
The Wall of Fame was created as a place to honor individuals who have contributed excellence on and off the field to the success of the team. It also allows the club and its fans to celebrate the history of the team.
Since inducting Roberts, the Philadelphia Phillies have honored one individual with induction each year, with the exception of 1983 when the Phillies celebrated 100 years of play, and instead honored a “Centennial Team” of stars from those first 100 seasons.
The players honored on the Wall of Fame now include 19th century stars such as Sherry MageeSam Thompson, and Billy Hamilton. The Wall of Fame also includes more contemporary star players such as Pat Burrell and Jim Thome.
You will find all of the expected Baseball Hall of Famers on the Wall including Mike SchmidtSteve CarltonJim Bunning, Grover Cleveland Pete AlexanderRichie Ashburn, and Chuck Klein
Non-players such as beloved broadcaster Harry Kalas, 1970s team architect Paul Owens, and World Series-winning managers Dallas Greenand Charlie Manuel are also on the Wall.
With Thome’s induction this past summer, there are now a total of 38 individuals who have been honored with plaques on the Wall of Fame. 

From humble beginnings on a concourse wall at Veteran’s Stadium, the official Wall of Fame has now been given a permanent home out on Ashburn Alley beyond center field at Citizens Bank Park.
In future years some very obvious players will find themselves fetted by the team and its fans. Jimmy RollinsChase UtleyRyan HowardCole Hamels, and Carlos Ruiz – all homegrown stars from the 2008 World Series winners – come immediately to mind.
But who are some of the others, players who were not a part of that World Series club, who might still find a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame, or who certainly deserve serious consideration, in a future season?
For the past couple of years, I have been pushing the cause of 1910s first baseman Fred Luderus for inclusion. 
Luderus was arguably the second-best first baseman of that decade, the key hitter in the middle of the club’s first-ever pennant winner in the 1915 season.
Luderus is a glaring omission from my point of view, lost to time in the rush to put more recent vintage players who fans more closely identify with onto the Wall of Fame.
Another old-timer who is, for my money, a similar glaring omission is early 20th century outfielder Roy Thomas
Thomas led the NL in walks a half-dozen times between 1900-06, and is to this day ninth in career WAR among all position players to ever pull on a Phillies jersey, the highest-rated such player not already on the Wall.
Staying old-time, Nap Lajoie had a career 2,204 plate appearances in 492 games over five seasons in a Phillies uniform. 
A Baseball Hall of Famer rightly better known for his play with the Cleveland Indians, Lajoie has the third highest batting average (.345) in Phillies history.
Ranking sixth in Offensive WAR among all Phillies players in history is 1998-2006 outfielder Bobby Abreu
A Silver Slugger and Gold Glover, he was a 2x NL All-Star and won the MLB All-Star Home Run Derby while with the team.
On the Wall of Fame from the beloved “Macho Row” 1993 NL pennant-winning Phillies are Curt SchillingDarren Daulton, and John Kruk, each honored in three of the four years between 2010-13. 
But it’s hard to imagine that team winning anything without the contributions of the man known alternately as “Nails” and “The Dude”, center fielder Lenny Dykstra.
Dykstra hit for a .289/.388/.422 slash line over eight seasons with the Phils from 1989-96. In those years he was a 3x NL All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and the runner-up for NL MVP in that 1993 season. 
A number of public troubles and revelations since his retirement may make Dykstra a hard swallow for the team to honor. But you cannot deny his on-field contributions.
Another controversial placement could be first baseman Pete Rose. There is little doubt that Rose was the biggest difference maker for the 1980 World Series champions.
Over five seasons in a Phillies uniform, Rose was an NL All-Star four times, received NL MVP votes twice, and won a Silver Slugger.
The club’s second round pick in the 1993 MLB Amateur Draft out of an Indiana high school, Scott Rolen became the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year. Defensively, he rivals Schmidt as the greatest glove man at the hot corner in team history.
Playing during the late-90s and into the 21st century at Veteran’s Stadium, Rolen was an NL All-Star and Silver Slugger winner and a 4x Gold Glove Award winner over parts of seven seasons with the Phillies.
There will be a compelling case made for a pair of pitchers who helped lead the Phillies to many victories during their recent stretch of glory, but who were not a part of the 2008 World Series championship team. 
Both right-hander Roy Halladay and left-hander Cliff Lee were popular members of some great Phillies pitching rotations.
Halladay pitched a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter while going 55-29 over parts of four seasons in Philly from 2010-13. Lee went 48-34 over parts of five seasons in 2009 and then from 2011-14.
Those are eight players who seem like obvious Phillies Wall of Famers to me. You could probably also make an argument for someone such as Placido Polanco, an NL All-Star and Gold Glover over seven Phillies seasons.

Philography: Placido Polanco

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Polanco was the Phillies starting 2B and 3B at various points


An important cog in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup for 7 of the 11 seasons between 2002-2012, Placido Polanco can nonetheless be considered the hard-luck player in the Phillies decade of winning excellence to open the 21st century.

His two stints as a starter with the ball club, first in the early part of the decade when he was mostly used as the starting 2nd baseman, and then at the end as the starting 3rd baseman, sandwiched the 2008 World Series victory, of which he was not a part.

But Polanco’s excellent play for the team in that long stretch cannot be overlooked. He brought steady professionalism, along with both winning play and a positive attitude. In the beginning, he helped the team realize it could compete with anyone. In the end,
he was a big part of a record-setting Phils season.

Placido Polanco‘s career began in the Saint Louis Cardinals organization at the tail end of the 20th century. Born and raised in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, he was selected by the Cards in the 19th round of the 1994 amateur draft out of Miami-Dade College.

He began his pro career that summer playing shortstop with the Cardinals rookie league affiliate at age 18, and remained at short when assigned to A-level Peoria in 1995. Then in 1996, Polanco was moved over to 2nd base. He would play mostly that position in both ’96 at High-A and then again for the Cardinals AA-level affiliate at Arkansas in 1997.

Though he did swipe 19 bags in ’97, Polanco was a light-hitter known for his ability to make contact. He was also proving highly skilled with the glove, and he graded outstanding in overall baseball smarts. Many in the organization, as well as outside evaluators, were pegging him as a future utility infielder who would definitely reach the Major Leagues as the 90’s were drawing to a close.

He finally achieved the Big League dream with a call-up to the Cardinals in July of 1998. In his 2nd game, his first start, Polanco was installed as the leadoff hitter playing 2nd base in a game vs the Reds at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. In the bottom of the first inning, Polanco lined a clean base hit to short rightfield off Reds’ lefty Brett Tomko for the first hit of his career.

Later in that 1998 season, in a game at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis vs the Florida Marlins, Polanco was given a start at shortstop by manager Tony LaRussa. With one-out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Polanco drove a ball deep down the leftfield line against Rafael Medina for his first career homerun.

It was just a first taste of life in the Big Leagues for Polanco, who would split time from 1998-2000 between the Majors and AAA. Each year his time with the Cardinals increased, and finally by the end of August 2000 he was the regular starting 2nd baseman in Saint Louis as the Cards won the N.L. Central crown. He saw regular action that year during the team’s first post-season appearance in 13 years, a tough NLDS loss to Atlanta.

Over the course of that first full 2000 season, Polanco had been bounced around the infield from 2nd to short to 3rd. His versatility fully established, he was finally given a chance in 2001 to settle at a spot. He saw 103 games, 92 starts, at 2nd base that season, while also seeing a career-high 42 games at shortstop.

Saint Louis again reached the postseason, this time as a Wildcard, and again took the NLDS to a decisive game. But again, Polanco and the Cards fell short, losing in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A pattern of postseason frustration was being established that would see a World Series crown always just beyond Polanco’s grasp.

In 2002, Polanco was moved over to 3rd base by the Cardinals as the regular starter, seeing 131 games at the position. But then just before the non-waiver trade deadline, on July 29th, a stunner. Polanco was included in a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils were looking to move disgruntled 3rd baseman Scott Rolen, and found a match in Saint Louis.

Now beginning a new chapter of his career in Philadelphia, Polanco finished out the 2002 season with a Phils club that had come in 2nd place in the NL East, just 2 games back, during the 2001 season. The ’02 team struggled through a losing September to finish a disappointing 80-81. It would prove to be the team’s last losing season for a decade.

In 2003 the Phillies were closing Veteran’s Stadium, and wanted to open the new Citizens Bank Park on an upswing. The club brought in free agents Jim Thome, David Bell, and Dan Plesac to upgrade the overall roster. The team responded by battling into late September in a dogfight with Florida and Houston for the NL Wildcard spot. However, 6 straight losses in a season-closing 1-7 stretch dropped them out of playoff contention. They finished 10 games over .500, but finished 5 games behind the Florida Marlins.

Polanco was the regular 2nd baseman in both that final 2003 season at The Vet, and in the inaugural 2004 season at Citizens Bank Park. In ’04, the team again finished 10 games over .500, but they finished 10 behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown and 6 games behind Houston for the Wildcard. They were obviously close, but not quite a championship contender.

That fall of 2004, Polanco became a free agent for the first time. In the end, liking his place with the team and the direction in which they seemed headed, he chose to sign a 5-year deal with the Phillies. His future was secure financially, and it appeared that he had a pivotal role on a team that looked to be a consistent contender into the future on the field as well.

His on-field production was also improving as he moved into his prime years and gained more consistent playing time. In 2003 he hit .289 with 14 homers and 14 steals, had 30 doubles, and scored 87 runs. In 2004, at age 28, he upped his average to .298 and his homers to 17.

2005 would be a near-miss for the Phillies playoff fortunes. The club won a couple more games, finishing 14 over the .500 mark, but still fell 2 games short of the Braves in the division. Perhaps more excruciating, they missed the Wildcard by just a single game. Polanco, however, was not around for the near-miss. That contract he signed did not have full no-trade protection.

On June 8th of 2005, the Phillies dealt Polanco away in an effort to bolster their pitching staff for the 2nd half. He was sent off to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina. The Phillies felt Polanco was expandable now that Chase Utley was ready to fully take over at 2nd base.

In the American League for the first time in his career, Polanco was also given a steady position for the first time. He would be the Tigers starting 2nd baseman for the next 4+ seasons. In the best portion of the prime of his career, from ages 29-33, Polanco hit a combined .311, and in 2006 he helped lead the Tigers to a Wildcard playoff berth.

In the 2006 playoffs, the Tigers would roll through the Yankees and A’s, winning 7 of 8 games to take the American League Pennant for the first time in 22 seasons. Polanco was integral. The Detroit 2nd baseman hit .413 in the ALDS vs the Yanks, and then .529 in the 4-game sweep of Oakland in the ALCS for which he was named the Most Valuable Player.

Moving on to the World Series for what would be the only time in his career, the Tigers were taking on his former team, the Saint Louis Cardinals. Polanco would also be squaring off with Rolen, the player for whom he was traded to Philly four years earlier. The two teams split the first two games in Detroit, and headed to St. Louis for the next 3 games.

The Tigers knew they needed to win just once in order to ensure at least a return trip to Detroit. It would never come. In Saint Louis, the Cardinals swept all three games to win the World Series. For his part, Polanco was almost non-existent. In his only Fall Classic he didn’t register a single hit, going 0-17 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Rolen was strong, hitting .421 with a homer and 5 runs scored in winning his lone career championship.

In 2007, Polanco would show that his previous postseason failures were not indicative of any erosion in his talent. At age 31, Polanco hit .341 with a .388 on-base percentage, he produced a career-high 67 rbi, scored 105 runs, reached 200 hits for the only time in his career, including a career-best 36 doubles. The result was his first-ever All-Star Game, as well as receiving the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards.

In both 2007 and in 2009, the Tigers would finish 2nd in the A.L. Central Division but were unable to secure a playoff spot. Polanco continued to be solid, hitting .307 for a losing Detroit team in 2008, and then winning his 2nd Gold Glove while driving in a knew career-high 72 runs in 2009.  Also in 2008, Polanco had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, taking his oath before a game right on the field at Comerica Park.

Following the 2009 season, the 5-year deal that he had originally signed with Philadelphia was now up, and he was again a free agent. The Tigers were ready to move on from their 2nd baseman, who would be turning 34-years old in 2010.

Meanwhile, back in Philly, the team had won the 2008 World Series and returned there in 2009. Their 3rd baseman, Pedro Feliz, was turning 35 years old in 2010 and had his contract expiring. Despite his not having played 3rd base since leaving Philly in 2005, the Phils approached Polanco about the possibility of moving back to the hot corner. Polanco jumped at a reunion.

Signing a 3-year deal to become the Phillies new 3rd baseman, the man who had become known as “Polly” set out to show that he could still produce at a high level. In his first season back in 2010, he played a strong 3rd base, and the Phillies reached the NLCS before losing in six games to San Francisco.

The following year of 2011, both the team and Polanco upped their games. The Phillies set a franchise record with 102 victories in rolling to their 5th consecutive National League East Division crown. Polanco made his 2nd All-Star team, his first in the National League, and would win the Gold Glove. In doing so, Placido Polanco became the first player to win a Gold Glove at two different positions.

With all of the 2011 success, the ending would prove disastrous for the team, and would signal the beginning of the end of Polanco’s time in Philly and his career as a whole. The Phils were edged out by his old Cardinals team in the NLDS thanks to a 1-0 loss in the decisive game. As in the 2006 World Series, Polanco again did not produce against them, going 2-19.

In 2012, Polanco and the Phillies suffered from injuries and began to fall apart. The team struggled to a .500 finish, missing the postseason for the first time since 2006. Polanco’s season would be ended by injury just as September began. But before it happened he had one more moment of glory. On May 14th he cracked a homerun off Houston Astros reliever David Carpenter for the 2,000th hit of this Major League career.

Granted free agency once again following that 2012 season, approaching age 37 and wanting to spend more time with his wife and two small children, Polanco considered retirement. He would only play if it could be near them, limiting him to the southeastern clubs. He signed eventually with the Miami Marlins, playing one final season as their 3rd baseman before finally retiring.

In a career that spanned parts of 16 seasons, Placido Polanco fashioned a .297 batting average in nearly 8,000 plate appearances spread across a little over 1,900 games. He appeared at 2nd base in more than 1,000 games and at 3rd in 751, as well as 122 at shortstop. He won the Gold Glove in both the AL and the NL, was an All-Star in both leagues, and had done both while with the Phillies.

Polly also proved to be very reliable. He finished with well over 500 plate appearances in every season for which he was given the opportunity during his prime years, 10 of the 11 seasons between ages 25-34. The lone exception was 2004 in Detroit when he barely missed at 495 thanks to a mid-August to mid-September injury.

A career near-.300 hitter who was a great defender. An All-Star caliber player who proved to be both versatile and dependable. A consummate professional who was well-liked and well-respected by both his peers and by fans. That is how Placido Polanco will be remembered by baseball fans in general, and Phillies fans in particular.

Hot Corner Gold Glover

Scott Rolen is the greatest defensive 3rd baseman that I have ever seen in my lifetime.

For any real fan of baseball, and especially for those who both know me and my passion for what I regularly call “The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented“, you’ll know that is no small statement for me to make.

It is also a fairly controversial statement. After all, this is the town where Phillies legendary 3rd baseman and Baseball Hall of Famer Michael Jack Schmidt played for all of his nearly 18 big league seasons, and I got to see him in every one of those seasons.

It is also controversial because my lifetime takes in the majority of the career of another Baseball Hall of Famer, the legendary Baltimore Orioles 3rd sacker Brooks Robinson. During their careers, Schmitty was a 10-time Gold Glover at 3rd base, including 9 in a row from 1976-1984 and Brooks won the Gold Glove a record 16 times at the hot corner, all consecutively from 1960-1975.

In fairness, it’s difficult for me to comment on any first-hand witnessing of Robinson’s greatness. I didn’t really begin following baseball until the 1970 season when I was 8 years old and Brooks was playing at age 33 in his 15th MLB season. Even after that, in those pre-cable TV days the only time I got to see him was on the occasional Game of the Week or other national TV broadcast such as the All-Star Game or the playoffs. I will toss in this caveat, that my pick Rolen has a ways to go to match the number of Gold Gloves won by Brooks Robinson.

I did get to watch Mike Schmidt’s entire career here in Philly. I was 10 years old when he broke in for a September 1972 call-up, and 27 years old when he retired early in the 1989 season. I probably saw Schmitty play in more than a hundred games at Veteran’s Stadium over the years, and in hundreds more on television. He was incredible at the hot corner, a human vacuum cleaner with a cannon for an arm, tremendous instincts, and uncommon athleticism. He could charge a slow roller and make the bare-handed pickup and throw in one motion play as well as anyone who ever played the game.

My opinion on Rolen is no knock on Schmitty, who in my books is simply edged out just slightly, and who comes in 2nd out of the hundreds that I have seen play 3rd base.
 Schmidt was certainly a stronger offensive player, and was just as good a baserunner. He is the greatest all-around 3rd baseman that I ever saw play, and in fact is the greatest ballplayer to ever don a Phillies uniform, period.

I also got to see a number of other great 3rd baseman over the years. Some of those who stand out for their glove work include Doug Rader, Craig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Robin Ventura, and Terry Pendleton. And in today’s game, both Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay and Ryan Zimmerman of Washington continue the baseball tradition of great athletes at the hot corner making unbelievable plays. Given health, those last two guys will have a bunch of Gold Gloves to their credit before their careers are finished a decade or more from now.

Zimmerman won his first of what many assumed would be a long line of consecutive National League Gold Glove Award honors following the 2009 season. But he was at least temporarily slowed down when the 2010 recipients were announced this past week. When the 2010 NL Gold Glove Award winners were announced, it was Scott Rolen who was honored with his 8th career award.

Some Phillies fans will never, ever give Rolen his due. That is somewhat understandable if you know the dynamics of the player’s career and his relationship with the town’s passionate fans. Scott Rolen broke in with the Phils at the tail end of the 1996 season. In 1997 he was the NL Rookie of the Year, but played for a club that won just 68 games, finished 33 games out of first place, and drew just 1.4 million fans, the lowest franchise attendance total since 1973.

Rolen was an undeniable talent at that point. The 6’4, 240-lb Midwest kid from Indiana played with passion and athleticism. His bat boomed with the promise of a perennial 30-homerun season hitter. He ran the bases as well as any player in the big leagues. And man, could he play defense. He more overpowered the position than played with grace and fluidity. He attacked balls, dove for them, charged them, overwhelmed them. He was the future in Philly, and in his 2nd full season of 1998 won the first of his Gold Glove Award honors.

The problem, however, was that Rolen was mostly alone in Philadelphia as a winner. He and pitcher Curt Schilling often appeared to be the only two players who played with both obvious passion for the game combined with excellence on the diamond. Many fans, including myself, embraced them as the two beacons of light on the team, the two biggest reasons to go out to the ballpark and spend your good money on the franchise in those days.

Rolen’s first break-in season of 1996 through the 2000 season resulted in five years in which the club finished a combined 106 games below the .500 mark, and the frustration began to grow on the young 3rd sacker. He added another Gold Glove in 2000, but had watched that summer as the team traded away it’s lone other All-Star caliber player and it’s only legitimate starting pitcher when Schilling was dealt to Arizona. Rolen, and the club’s increasingly disgruntled fan base, began to question management and ownership’s commitment to fielding a winning ballclub.

Then in 2001, things finally looked like they might be changing. The 2001 Phillies led by Rolen, rightfielder Bobby Abreu, and a speedy young shortstop named Jimmy Rollins battled for the NL East title right down to the final weeks of the season. On the emotional evening of Monday, September 17th, Rolen homered twice and led the Phillies to victory in a first-place showdown with the Atlanta Braves in front of a frenzied full house at The Vet that included my wife and I in attendance on baseball’s first night back following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The club ultimately fell short, but won 86 games, and Rolen was rewarded with his 3rd career Gold Glove.

That 2001 highlight season in Philadelphia would prove to be the final one for the 3rd baseman. Despite the team showing it could begin to move forward and compete on the field, the front office continued to wring it’s hands, doing nothing to add to the talent base. Schilling had won a World Series in 2001 with the Diamondbacks, and Rolen saw nothing happening in Philly that pointed towards the same happening here any time soon. His displeasure towards ownership and management got more and more vocal, and he demanded a trade, preferably to a franchise market closer to his Midwestern roots.

Just before the 2002 trade deadline, the Phillies finally cut their ties, trading Rolen to the Saint Louis Cardinals for three players, including Placido Polanco. The Cardinals loved Rolen, and he loved them. He signed an 8-year, $90 million contract at the end of 2002 season which saw him selected to his first All-Star team, win his first Silver Slugger as the best offensive 3rd baseman in the game, and finally his 4th Gold Glove Award. He won All-Star and Gold Glove honors in both 2005 and 2006 as well, and finally reached the ultimate when the 2006 Cardinals won the World Series.

Many here in Philly will always hold a grudge against Rolen for wanting out of town, and for going public with that sentiment. Turn your back on us, and many of us will not only hope you get your wish to leave, but also will happily drive you out or pay your way out, and will never let you forget that you asked to leave for the rest of your career or life. The usual media suspects in town did a nice job at the time, and some have continued the idea, of portraying Rolen as a crybaby quitter. To me, Rolen was exactly what Schilling was – a winner stuck in a loser organization that made no commitment to win for years, and that was showing no signs of doing it any time in the near future. But instead of rallying around their stars, many of the fans and in the media turned on them in spite of the team’s apparent commitment to losing.

So Rolen and Schilling both moved along with their All-Star careers and won their World Series away from Philadelphia. For Rolen, the 2007 season was a lost one as injury woes particularly to his shoulder wrecked his year from the outset. Manager Tony LaRussa began to question Rolen’s commitment to the game, questioning the repeated injury problems. Finally in January of 2008, Rolen was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. He spent another mostly injury-marred season and a half in Toronto, never able to return to more than flashes of his early career brilliance. Finally at the trade deadline in 2009, Rolen was dealt to Cincinnati.

It was a curious move at the time, with many wondering why the young, rebuilding Reds would take on a player apparently on the decline at the trade deadline during a year in which they were not in contention. But Reds management believed that they had an up-and-coming team, believed in Rolen’s talent and quiet leadership-by-example approach, and saw a perfect fit. They were rewarded with a tremendous comeback 2010 season in which a rejuvenated Scott Rolen helped lead the Reds back into the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, and for which he was rewarded with that 8th Gold Glove.

For any Phils fan with an honest memory and who saw Scott Rolen play during those first five years of his career here in Philadelphia, and who is a baseball fan able to appreciate what he did the next few years at Saint Louis, and who got to enjoy this past comeback season with the Reds, you simply must acknowledge what the man is between the lines of a baseball diamond.

Many can successfully argue the cases for Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson being better defensive 3rd basemen than Scott Rolen. They will point to more Gold Glove Award honors and will fall back on Hall of Fame careers for those players. I won’t spend a lot of time arguing, because I truly appreciate those two men and their place in the game, and I honestly value their greatness, including as defensive players at 3rd base.

But again, I have watched this game now for over four decades. I have seen great ones come and go. I have seen good ones shoot onto the scene and have a great season or two or three. I have seen tremendous offensive players have mediocre defensive seasons and still be rewarded with Gold Glove honors based more on offensive prowess or past reputations. For me, Scott Rolen is the best glove, arm, and athlete that I have ever seen at the hot corner in all my years of enjoying this great game, and I will take that opinion to my grave.