Jimmy Rollins' Philadelphia Phillies Legacy: A Promise Kept

Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins hi-fives fans lining the field at Citizen's Bank park at the end of the celebration of t
Philadelphia Phillies' Jimmy Rollins hi-fives fans lining the field at Citizen's Bank park at the end of the celebration of their World Series Championship, Friday, Oct. 31, 2008, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Philadelphia fans should be forever grateful Jimmy Rollins didn't follow the script his peers provided.

The future Philadelphia Phillies hits leader first arrived at the start of the 2001 season. That same summer, the Allen Iverson Era would hit its high-water mark as the 76ers fell short in the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, the Eagles were just starting a run of three consecutive conference championship game losses, which would be followed by a defeat in Super Bowl XXXIX.

At the time, it had been 18 years since a Philadelphia team had won a championship. From the '93 Phillies to the '97 Flyers, a generation of Philadelphia sports fans were being taught a new city slogan: Close-but-no-parade.

Which brings us, mercifully, to the legacy of James Calvin Rollins -- the one that called his shot.

Rollins ends his decade-and-a-half tenure in Philadelphia this week. His final curtain call comes as the franchise's all-time leader in hits, at-bats, doubles, and stolen bases. He also ranks second in games, singles, triples, runs, total bases and extra-base hits. With all due respect to Phillie-for-Life Larry Bowa, the man affectionately known as J-Roll stands as the clear choice for Greatest Shortstop in Phillies History.

But it is the words, not the numbers, that will define Rollins. Specifically, the twenty-five he uttered in January of 2007.

 "For the first time since I've been here, I think we are the team to beat in the National League East. I know we are."

At the time, it was baseball's biggest joke. J-Roll's Phillies had finished a dozen games back of the New York Mets the previous season, which is why his proclamation was almost universally laughed at.

"Talk is very cheap," Mets third basemen David Wright would sneer.

Wright wasn't wrong, but neither was Jimmy, and that's where Rollins began to separate himself from those before him.

The Phillies would indeed be the team to beat in the NL East that year, overtaking the Mets on the final day of the season. They couldn't have done it without J-Roll, who backed up his declaration by becoming the first player in Major League history to hit 30 doubles, 20 triples, 30 home runs and record 30 steals in a single season, good enough to earn him the National League MVP award.

The next winter, Rollins' doubled-down, saying his team would "win 100 (games)." They ended the regular season at 92, but eclipsed the century mark by the end of October, bringing Philadelphia its first World Series Championship since 1980 and first major championship in any sport since 1983.

Where Iverson and Dawkin came up short, Rollins delivered. For the first time in a quarter of a century, the sports fanatics of Philadelphia could raise their heads high and call themselves World F&%$ing Champions... just like Jimmy had promised.

The Phillies would remain the team to beat in the NL East for three more seasons, including a franchise record 102-wins in 2011, however it was those delivered-upon promises that will forever define J-Roll's time in South Philly.

Jimmy preached expecting the best at a time when Philadelphians were instinctively expecting the worst. More than any other player, Rollins changed the culture, not just in the clubhouse, but in the city itself.

"It takes more than one player," Rollins said during that 2008 World Series celebration, "to bring home a championship."

Again, Rollins wasn't wrong. But he's the one player most responsible, and thats how he'll be remembered.