Put this bit of history in the books after the opening game next year for the Philadelphia Phillies: if Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley start in the season-opening game on March 31, 2014, they will become the NL’s all-time shortstop-second baseman double-play combination.
Think about that for a second. No sport has the kind of history baseball does, but Rollins and Utley will be in their 12th season as a combo. Only the AL duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker of the Detroit Tigers had been together for a longer stretch (1978-1995).
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, a few other combinations played at least one game together at those spots in 11 seasons — current Phils’ interim manager Ryne Sandberg and Shawon Dunston for the Cubs of the 1980s and 1990s, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers (part of the famous Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance combo) for the turn-of-the-century Chicago Cubs, Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher from that same era, and Bobby Lowe and Herman Long for the 19th-century Boston Beaneaters.
A few games and months from now, Rollins and Utley will at least leave those guys in the rear-view mirror. The development speaks a lot for both the team and the players. For the team, the pair came on the scene just about the time the team moved from Veterans Stadium to Citizens Bank Park, and that revenue stream allowed the organization to keep funding contract extensions.
For the players, Utley became somewhat of a Philadelphia folk hero both for his hard, “busting it down the line all the time” style of play and for his infamous “World [expletive] Champions” remark before a packed CBP house while celebrating the 2008 championship.
Rollins has been popular in his own way, but his “I’ll bust it when I see fit” style does not sit well with the blue-collar Philadelphia sports fan. Add to that his comment this year about “not being disappointed” after losing three of four with the Los Angeles Dodgers and his refusal to be traded at the July deadline because “I want to set franchise records”, Rollins’ legacy has been set, although not necessarily for the good.
Since Utley just signed a deal and Rollins is in the middle of a three-year one with a no-trade clause, chances are very good the two will take the field for the 2014 opener.
No one knew what franchise record Rollins was talking about then, but when he plays the first game next year, he will at least share one with Utley. To do that in this era of free agency makes the milestone all the more impressive.