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Jimmy Rollins vs. Larry Bowa: Who Is the Best Shortstop in Phillies' History?

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 09:  Third base coach Larry Bowa #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks with Jimmy Rollins #11 of the Philadelphia Phillies during batting practice prior to Game One of the National League Championship Series during the 2008 MLB playoffs on October 9, 2008 at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Marilee GallagherContributor IIDecember 7, 2012

In his 12 years in the majors, the entirety of which has been spent with the Philadelphia Phillies, shortstop Jimmy Rollins has put together a respectable and successful career. Among his many accolades, the 34-year-old shortstop from Oakland has been named to three All-Star teams, has four times been awarded the Gold Glove, is one of just four members of the 20-20-20-20 club and of course, is a World Series Champion.

While Rollins' marks with the Phillies are significant, there is another shortstop that too has been named to All-Star teams (5x), that also has won Gold Glove awards (2x) and additionally, is the only other starting shortstop in franchise history that can boast being a World Series Champion.

That man, who spent 12 of his 16 years in the majors, is Larry Bowa, who for the longest time was considered the best shortstop in Phillies history.

Last season, Rollins passed Bowa's record of most games played at the position for the Phillies. Now, this mark speaks more of longevity than it does of skills, but nevertheless, it could signal a changing of the guard. While the debate is still out as to which shortstop is better, Rollins looks to have pulled ahead, albeit just slightly.

What is going for Jimmy, however, is that his time is not yet up. Prior to last season, Rollins signed a three-year deal to remain with the Phillies. In short, this means three more years to solidify his standing and to finish his career as the best shortstop in Phillies history

So before coming to a snap decision, in order to really determine who is the best of the best, let's take a look at the stats and then, of course, the intangibles. That way, once and for all, we will be able to put an end to the debate of the best shortstop in Phillies history.

The Case for Larry Bowa

While the initial edge seems to lean toward Rollins, in comparing the two greats, I would be remiss not to talk about the ever-shrinking argument favoring Bowa.

Some of the major points include:

  • In terms of career numbers, Bowa still leads Rollins by nearly 200 hits. He piled up 1,798 in his 12 years with the Phillies, which compares to the 2,024 Rollins has with the team. So while Bowa has the lead in totals, keep in mind, he played four years more than Rollins. If Rollins continues at the pace he has been on, averaging 155.7 hits a season, he will pass Bowa by 2014.
  • Bowa was the first great Phillies shortstop and set the mold for Rollins. From 2000-03 when Bowa coached third for the team, he served as a mentor for Rollins. Needless to say, the latter learned a lot from his instructor.
  • Bowa is one of few guys that can call Rollins out on his lack of hustle because when he was a player, there was no one that worked as hard and fought for each base as Bowa did. As a coach, he had two rules: hustle, and be on time.

Where the Bowa argument falls short, however, is in the very essence of what makes one a better baseball player. In looking at just Bowa's 12 years with the Phillies compared to Rollins' career, Rollins has the statistical edge in nearly every offensive category including runs, RBI, home runs, at-bats and extra base hits. The differences aren't slim either. In some categories, such as home runs, Rollins leads with 193 to just 15 for Bowa.

The Case for Jimmy Rollins

As such, the case for Rollins presents itself as being stronger. In statistical numbers, Rollins blows Bowa away. On defense, while the argument is closer, Rollins has more defensive accolades and boasts a slightly higher .983 fielding percentage to Bowa's .98 flat.

While Bowa was consistent throughout his career, he never had one really standout season. While with the Phillies, Bowa's best season came in 1975-76. His peak career batting average reached .305 and he maxed out with 13 triples one season. As previously mentioned, Bowa was not a power hitter and hit a max of four home runs once, in 1977.

Rollins, on the other hand, had a stellar season in 2007. In addition to winning the MVP, Rollins' recorded over 200 hits for the only time in his career, with his 212 besting Bowa's high of 193. Rollins also hit 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 home runs and had 41 stolen bases, cracking both the 30-30 club and 20-20-20-20 club for the first time in his career.

While both Bowa and Rollins have World Series Championships, Rollins led the team to its most successful run, winning five-straight division titles from 2007-12. Bowa has a slightly better postseason batting average, but overall, Rollins played a bigger postseason role.

Bowa was a leader on and off the field, but even his enthusiasm during the 1980 Phillies postseason run, hecan't compare to Rollins' now well-known proclamation and then accomplishment of the Phillies as the "team to beat."

And the Winner Is...

The debate will probably rage on, but at this point, it seems pretty definitive to conclude that Rollins will go down as the best shortstop in Phillies history by the time his career is said and done. 

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