With Jimmy Rollins approaching the Philadelphia Phillies’ all-time record for hits, the debate over his Hall of Fame qualifications has gained new life. As more and more people weigh in, we find Rollins is increasingly compared to Cincinnati Reds great Barry Larkin, the most recent shortstop inducted at Cooperstown.
There’s no denying Rollins has comparable numbers to Larkin. In fact, Rollins will likely pass Larkin in hits and runs, if not this year, then next. J-Roll already has him beat in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases. Rollins has a shot at eventually eclipsing Larkin in runs batted in as well. Rollins even has one more Gold Glove and the same number of MVPs and world championships. And of course, they play the same position.
Count Phillies legend Mike Schmidt among those observers who buy into the comparison.
"My assessment would be that if Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame, you've got to think about Jimmy Rollins," said Schmidt, a part-time member of the Phillies' broadcast team. "The importance for him is to finish out strong the next three to four years and continue to be a force.
Don’t get me wrong. When everything is said and done, Rollins’ career will absolutely merit consideration for the Hall. It would even if he announced his retirement today. The goal here is not to diminish his accomplishments.
Having said that, anybody who thinks Rollins’ candidacy hinges on how the raw numbers and accolades stack up against Larkin is completely missing the point. This is false equivalence at its finest.
Larkin didn’t get elected to the Hall of Fame based purely on statistics. He got in because he was hands down one of the most dominant shortstops of his generation. The same cannot be said for Rollins.
Larkin was a 12-time All Star to Rollins’ three. Eleven of Larkin’s appearances in the Mid-Summer Classic occurred over a 13 year period. Such tidbits may seem trivial at face value, but think about what it represents. Year in and year out, Larkin consistently garnered recognition as one of the best players in baseball. The same cannot be said for Rollins.
In case All-Star games are a little too abstract though, Larkin also won nine Silver Slugger Awards to Rollins’ one. The Silver Slugger is given to the best offensive player at each position in both leagues as voted by managers and coaches. For the better part of a decade, it was consistently Larkin. The same cannot be said for Rollins.
Throughout Rollins’ career, he has often been overshadowed at any given period of time by the likes of Edgar Renteria, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond—and that’s just in the National League. Then there are Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Michael Young in the AL as well.
And on that note, if how shortstops measure up to Larkin is a factor in Hall of Fame voting, has anybody bothered looking up Renteria’s numbers? Tejada’s? Young’s? They’re not so incomparable. Should they all be enshrined, too? The only difference is Rollins’ career is alive and kicking.
Enough about Larkin. He was held up against his peers, who he dominated for the better part of 19 Major League seasons. Rollins’ career is nothing like Larkin’s in that sense.
Rollins should and will be judged on the period he played in, just as the players before him were. Except in some instances where a player achieved 3,000 hits, 500 home runs or whatever arbitrary milestone, the Hall of Fame is not simply about statistics. It’s about the athletes who were the very best of their era.
That depicts Barry Larkin. The same cannot be said for Jimmy Rollins.