In June 1993, the Phillies drafted a third baseman out of Jasper High School in Indiana who’d hit .520 in his 48 plate appearances.
Thirty years later, he is being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
What happened in between? Oh, who keeps track of such things.
Yes, some Phillies fans might still have some bitterness in their hearts for how things went down between the team and Scott Rolen. Some fans might be over it, given how much both parties have achieved since July 2002. And at this point, some fans were born long after any of it went down.
As Rolen achieves baseball immortality this weekend, you’ll see plenty of highlights from his storied career. Most happened once he’d left Philadelphia. When he said his new home, St. Louis, felt like having “died and gone to heaven,” the Phillies were clearly insinuated as the “having died” part. As you can imagine, Philadelphians reacted to his statement in a fair and rational manner.
Rolen had come up through the Phillies’ system as a top prospect and was considered a star around whom the team could build their next championship team. Instead, we got a lot of grumbling that turned into shouting that turned into drama that turned into a messy break-up.
Sure, Rolen hit his first big league home run with the Phillies, and was named the National League Rookie of the Year while with the Phillies, and went to the All-Star Game as a member of the Phillies, as well as winning four Gold Gloves in the hot corner with them.
But most of his accolades happened with other teams. For the playoff-less Phillies of 2002-06, when the club was good but seemingly always one star third baseman away from contending, fans were left to wonder, “What if…”
What if Rolen had accepted the Phillies’ offer of 10 years and $140 million? What if the Phillies had been willing to spend more money and build around him? What if Larry Bowa had adjusted his own managing approach to more effectively connect with his star player? What if Rolen had adjusted to occasionally having his manager get in his face? What if Rolen had still been playing third base in his mid-thirties when Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins had emerged from the minors to fill out the rest of the infield?
We’ll never know. But what we do know is what the Phillies were doing while Rolen was succeeding elsewhere.
October 1, 2002
Scott Rolen: Making his postseason debut
The Phillies: Firing their pitching coach
Rolen had already achieved a lot individually by 2002 and was ready to contend. The Phillies, he’d determined, were not.
“Rolen was bothered by the team’s recent futility — only two winning seasons in the past 15 years,” read Sports Illustrated in April 2002. “And he said so, claiming that its annual payrolls have not demonstrated ‘a commitment to winning.’”
He’d called 2001, his last full season in Philadelphia, “the most unhappy season of my career.” Philadelphia, Rolen claimed, was the first place he’d ever been booed as a ballplayer. Which, fair enough. He is from Indiana, after all.
When it became clear he would accept no offer of an extension, the Phillies traded him to St. Louis, with whom Rolen…immediately went to the postseason.
His new team, the Cardinals, faced the defending World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in game one of the 2002 NLDS. Rolen went 1 for 5 with two RBI and the Cardinals shellacked the Snakes, 12-2, on the way to a series sweep.
The Phillies, meanwhile, had some stimulating drama of their own! Sure, it wasn’t “winning in the playoffs,” but it was related to baseball.
They had just fired their pitching coach, Verh Ruhle, with no explanation.
“I’m not sure what it was all about,” Ruhle told reporters. “Maybe Larry [Bowa] has somebody he wants in place. It’s certainly beyond me.”
Homesick yet, Scott? Yeah. Thought so.
October 21, 2004
Scott Rolen: Hitting a home run off Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS
The Phillies: Watching their old manager, Terry Francona, beat the Yankees and go to the World Series
This was a rough day in Phillies history, if you’re the bitter type — and you’re reading an article about the Phillies and Scott Rolen, so you are.
Not only did their former Rookie of the Year win the Cardinals the NLCS by homering off a legendary ace in Clemens, who was practically feral from steroids at this point, but the skipper the Phillies let go after the 2000 season was in the middle of breaking the Curse of the Bambino. They’d also just fired Francona’s full-time successor in Larry Bowa, the manager who just couldn’t figure out how to communicate with Rolen.
On Oct. 21, the Phillies had just interviewed Pirates third base coach John Russell for the job. Fortunately, the guy they wound up picking won them their next World Series in 2008 while Rolen was having a pedestrian year in Toronto.
Take that, Scott! Just kidding. We’re over it. That’s what we’re famous for in Philadelphia: Being over things.
Meanwhile, in 2004, Francona rallied his Red Sox to come back from a 3-0 series deficit, beat the Yankees, and eventually win the World Series over Rolen and the Cardinals.
Whatever. It was October. The Eagles were on.
October 27, 2006
Scott Rolen: Winning the World Series
The Phillies: Working out a deal to keep Harry Kalas in the booth
As obvious as some players’ contract extensions have been over the years, bringing back Harry Kalas was as obvious as ordering another round. The real question was why the parties hadn’t worked something out already.
Sure, these things take time and each side needs to be heard. And agents and lawyers charge by the hour. But there is close to no one else as universally beloved as Harry Kalas was in Philadelphia, and the fact that he was even permitted to technically enter free agency as a broadcaster was borderline idiotic.
“My agent and the Phillies are working on a contract right now,” Kalas told reporters on Oct. 27. “I’m interested in coming back this season and many other seasons.”
Why the Phillies didn’t just slide a piece of paper that said “YES” across the table, we’ll never know. Maybe they were distracted by Scott Rolen hitting .421 with a 1.213 OPS in the World Series as the Cardinals finished beating the Tigers, four games to one.
That was probably it.
October 6, 2010
Scott Rolen: Getting no-hit by Roy Halladay in the first postseason no-hitter since 1956
The Phillies: No-hitting Scott Rolen and the Reds
As the 2000s went by and Scott Rolen faded from Philadelphia’s more recent outrages, a funny thing started happening: The Phillies started playing well. Not just well, but better: Better than the Mets, better than the Dodgers, and better than the National League’s top competition. As their young core came out of the minors and solid free agents filled out the lineup, along with a few deft moves by Pat Gillick and blockbuster deals from Ruben Amaro, the Phillies became a destination for star free agents. Instead of wanting to leave because of a lack of spending, it became hilarious how much the Phillies were willing to spend.
In 2010, they made a trade for Roy Halladay. And while people were upset that Cliff Lee was sent on his one-year sabbatical to the AL West, they forgot all about that as Halladay set down the Reds in order nine times to open the 2010 NLDS.
It just so happened on that historic night at Citizens Bank Park that a grizzled vet named Scott Rolen was in the lineup for Cincinnati. Like all of his teammates, he went hitless in the ballpark he’d left behind eight years prior. Unlike all of his teammates, he struck out in every at-bat.
But nobody was thinking about that. They were thinking about Roy Halladay, and the joy of victory in the postseason, of watching a master at work, and of what awaited the Phillies in the NLCS, which they would surely reach with game one going so well.
Time heals all wounds. As long as you stop picking at them.
“For the Phillies, no regrets,” Kevin Roberts wrote in 2002 for the Camden Courier-Post. “Except, of course, for the fact that Scott Rolen is gone.”