Schmidt rooting for Rollins to break record

PHILLIES Mike Schmidt broke Richie Ashburn's team record for hits in 1989.
PHILLIES Mike Schmidt broke Richie Ashburn's team record for hits in 1989.
Posted: May 21, 2014

A QUARTER CENTURY ago, Mike Schmidt hit a one-out double off David Cone in the top of the eighth inning at Shea Stadium. Later in the inning, he scored the go-ahead run.

In between, the ball Schmidt hit for a double was scooped up and sent into the visiting dugout. Schmidt and then-broadcaster Richie Ashburn, who would one day go into the Hall of Fame together, autographed the ball and it was auctioned off at the Phillies Wives ALS auction.

A day after that hit, on April 20, 1989, Schmidt hit another double in his first at-bat in Pittsburgh to pass Ashburn and claim the Phillies' all-time hit record.

"To have as many hits as anybody in the history of this organization, that's something," Schmidt said at the time. "That's a ball that will go up on my mantel. Because the guy I passed was a heckuva hitter. It's nice to know that somebody's going to have to play a long time to break that record."

Twenty-five years later, Schmidt is in the broadcast booth watching someone who has played long enough to make a run at one of the 24 team records the Hall of Fame third baseman owned when he retired in May 1989.

Entering play today, Jimmy Rollins is 22 hits shy of breaking Schmidt's record (2,234) as the Phillies' all-time hit king.

"I wish he'd go 4-for-4 for as many nights as it takes to catch and pass me," Schmidt said in a phone interview with the Daily News over the weekend.

Schmidt, 64, watched Rollins come one hit closer on Sunday, when the shortstop led off the first inning with a home run. Schmidt has had the chance to watch Rollins chase him down each home Sunday game at Citizens Bank Park, where he is a part of Comcast's broadcast team.

"If someone is going to pass me, I'm honored that it's him," Schmidt said. "[He's] a good man, a good family man, plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He's very likable - that's another thing that's great about Jimmy. So I have no qualms whatever."

Rollins' homer on Sunday was his 2,213th career hit. Like Schmidt, Rollins has played his entire career with the Phillies.

The then-39-year-old Schmidt's career was winding down when he passed Ashburn in 1989 - Schmidt would play just 28 more games after claiming the record - but the 35-year-old Rollins is enjoying a late-career revival.

Rollins is hitting .262 with a .787 OPS in 39 games this season. His .359 on-base percentage is higher than any OBP he's had at the conclusion of any of his previous 14 seasons. He has five home runs in 168 plate appearances, one shy of matching his home run total in 666 plate appearances in 2013. Rollins' home run total in 2013 was the lowest in any of his 13 full big-league seasons, as was his .667 OPS.

After hitting second for most of the season, Rollins returned to the leadoff spot this weekend. In addition to his homer, he walked twice on Sunday and, with 22 walks in 39 games, is well on his way to setting a new career high (62 walks in 156 games in 2012).

"He's doing a job, being a catalyst at the top of the order," manager Ryne Sandberg said.

On Saturday, Rollins passed Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty for third place on the Phillies' all-time hit list; he's four hits away from tying Ashburn. At some point in the next month, Rollins is likely to rack up 21 more hits to tie Schmidt's franchise mark.

All three of those players - Schmidt, Asburn and Delahanty - are Hall of Famers. Although Rollins likely has a few more years left in his career - his current contract with the Phillies has a vesting option for 2015 - eventually people are going to begin to debate whether he's also worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Rollins is just a career .269 hitter and is a longshot to reach the 3,000-hit plateau. But in comparison to a couple of fellow shortstops he's crossed paths with in his career, Rollins is certainly worthy of being in a Hall of Fame conversation.

Barry Larkin was inducted into Cooperstown two summers ago. Larkin has a superior batting average (.295) and OPS (.815) to Rollins (.269 and .753, respectively).

But Rollins has more home runs (204 to 198), stolen bases (430 to 379), doubles (462 to 441) and triples (109 to 76) than Larkin in 189 fewer career games. Rollins is also likely to pass Larkin (2,340) in career hits.

Larkin won an MVP award and three Gold Gloves in 19 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. Rollins has won an MVP and four Gold Gloves in his 15 seasons.

Derek Jeter is another interesting name. While Jeter (.312 career average with 3,353 hits and an .825 OPS) is clearly a superior hitter to Rollins, the Phillies shortstop is the better glove man and could very well finish his career with more home runs, triples, doubles and stolen bases than the Yankees captain and future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Jeter, who is retiring at the end of the season, has 257 home runs, 65 triples, 529 doubles and 348 stolen bases in 2,638 games. Rollins has played in 647 fewer games - tomorrow will be the 1,992nd of his career.

"Barry Larkin's election to the Hall of Fame opened up a lot of opportunity for other shortstops," Schmidt said. "I believe Alan Trammell has to be mentioned. [Dave] Concepcion. Might even mention Larry Bowa. Among the guys I mentioned, I would think Jimmy Rollins would be at the top of the list when you compare shortstops to Barry Larkin . . . I don't want to make some statement, but I'd say, yes, numbers don't lie, and if you stack Jimmy Rollins next to Barry Larkin, they're very, very similar so why wouldn't you consider Jimmy Rollins a Hall of Fame candidate?"

The Cooperstown debate can wait. For now, Schmidt will just hope to be in the broadcast booth when Rollins passes him on the Phillies' hit list.

And maybe he'll play the role of Whitey, and put his John Hancock with Rollins' on the game-tying baseball.

"Guys passed my 548 home runs one after another," Schmidt said. "Shoot, I'm at the age now where whatever records I might have [may be in danger]. With the exception of a couple of weird things, like striking out four times on 12 pitches - that one will never be broken."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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