The Black History Month Spotlight series serves to highlight some of the most iconic, influential black athletes to make their mark in Philadelphia. For the second installment, we’ll cover the career and legacy of longtime shortstop and Phillies legend Jimmy Rollins.
As the saying goes, big things sometimes come in small packages. There is perhaps no finer example of this than 5-foot-7, 17-year big leaguer Jimmy Rollins. A key component of one of the most dominant eras and infields in team history alongside legends Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Rollins’ presence loomed just as large despite his slight frame.
Known for his vibrant, infectious smile and easy-going personality, Rollins was anything but once he stepped onto the field- a trend that dates back to his high school days in sunny California.
Hailing from an athletic family, Rollins quickly developed a passion for baseball. His mother Gigi was a highly-regarded infielder in the fast-pitch softball leagues of Northern California and his father fancied wrestling and weightlifting. His siblings were no different and tried their hand at various sports. Rollins’ brother Antwon also played baseball- briefly playing in the Texas Rangers minor league ranks- and his younger sister Shay was a starting guard at the University of San Francisco.
As a child, Rollins would attend his mother’s games, often collecting all the outfield balls in exchange for a few batting reps and tips from his mom. Practice reps, evidently, that paid huge dividends down the line.
Proving that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, Rollins, like his mother Gigi, quickly developed into a star infielder. The diminutive, lightning-quick Rollins prospered at Encinal High School, shattering school records along the way. His .484 batting average and 99 stolen bases still stand as school records and his impressive efforts helped make him a household name amongst regional scouts.
Fortunately for both he and the Phillies, one of the scouts left marveling at his skills was Bob Poole- who served as the Phils Bay Area scout at the time. In fear that the team may pass on the opportunity to land the future all-star due to his lack of size, Poole wrote glowing reviews about Rollins, all but pleading that the team drafted him when the time came.
“This youngster can pick and throw. He has range, quickness, supple hands, strong/accurate arm. Excellent instincts and field smarts. Switch hitter; swing is compact with a short stride, makes sharp contact from both sides. Tool-wise, it’s all there, except power, but it comes in a small package. Will be an early pick by a club that will go for tools over size. He CAN play and he can play shortstop in the major leagues.”
In the summer of 1996, Poole got his wish and the Phillies got their man when the team drafted him in the second round.
Having had his boyhood dreams finally come to fruition, Rollins was obviously elated to be joining the Phillies organization. His excitement didn’t extend to the lousy conditions of his eventual home of Veterans Stadium, though, as he light-heartedly pointed out in his retirement speech some 23 years later.
“I got drafted, didn’t know much about the city,” Rollins said. “I knew Mike
Schmidt. I knew Veterans Stadium. I knew it wasn’t a good-looking stadium.
Not a lot of people came to the games.”
“I remember watching the  all-star game [in Philly] and thinking to myself, ooh, that stadium, mm-mm,” Rollins quipped while shaking his head in disgust. “Naw, that’s not it. That’s not it all.”
Thankfully, Rollins would go on to experience much fonder memories at Veterans Stadium before it’s demolition in 2004- including his emphatic MLB debut. After quickly moving up the minor league ranks, Rollins earned a promotion to the senior circuit- serving as a September call-up late in the 2000 season.
Eager to prove the powers that be correct in their glowing assessment of him, Rollins responded with two knocks in his MLB debut, including a triple bagger- his first hit as a major leaguer.
Rollins, as we know, would go on to rack up far more hits in a Phillies uniform- 2,306 of them, in fact, including a base knock that crowned him as the all-time Phillies leader in hits.
All-time Phillies hit leader is just one of many in a long list of impressive feats for Rollins. Through 17 major league seasons, Rollins earned three all-star selections (including one start), four gold gloves, a silver slugger award, the esteemed NL MVP award, and, of course, an unforgettable 2008 World Series championship.
It was during that championship run that he delivered perhaps the most clutch base-hit in team history, a walk-off double in Game 4 of the NLCS series against the Dodgers.
The shot sent Citizens Bank Park into an absolute frenzy and serves as one of the standout moments in their champion run.
Their five-game World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays snapped a 28-year championship for the Phils and still stands as the last championship the team has won to date. A figure that Rollins feels is too low given how talented the team core was, however.
“Shoulda, coulda, woulda, but I would say we should have gotten three rings,” he admitted at his retirement ceremony.
Always hungry for more, that Jimmy. A mindset that made him such a beloved figure in Philly.
Still, capturing the championship all but cemented Rollins’ status as a Phillies legend, and the case can be made that he deserves to add one more honor to his decorated resume- Hall of Famer.
At the conclusion of his career, Rollins stood as the ONLY shortstop in history to record 400+ stolen bases and 200+ home runs. He is also one just three shortstops- Derek Jeter and David Wright being the others- to top reign atop a team’s all-time hit list. Impressed yet? If not, how does Rollins being one of only four players to post a 20-double, 20-triple, 20-home run, 20-steal season sound?
An incredibly rare, generational talent, Rollins, at least in my humble opinion, is one of the few athletes that truly embodies everything the City of Philadelphia stands for.
He had swagger, confidence, always backed up his words, and of course, exuded the brotherly type of love the city is famous for amongst his teammates.
A champion both on and off the field, you just can’t say enough good things about Rollins and his impact in Philly. So, in conclusion, I’ll give him a true baseball salute. I tip my hat to you, Rollins, thank you for being who you are. Thank you for all the laughs. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Thank you for helping bring a championship to Philly. And thank you for leaving a legacy in Philly that the city will not soon forget.
Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Jalyn is a 22-year old journalist from Saint Louis, MO trying to make his mark in the industry. Want to follow his journey? Follow him on Twitter at @JustJalyn_ or contact him at email@example.com