Though most would argue Chase Utley was the best overall player on the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies, Jimmy Rollins was seen as the heart and soul of the most successful era in franchise history.
However, if took Rollins nearly six full seasons in the league - and one very painful departure - to fully embrace the role as the leader on the Phillies.
Rollins recently joined Glen Macnow and Ray Didinger on SportsRadio 94 WIP, and said that while he made three All-Star teams in his first five seasons in the league, it took him time to be able to become the alpha in the clubhouse.
"When I first got there, it was Scott Rolen, he was the clubhouse leader and no one was going to step on his toes or try to outshine him. And then when he got traded to the Cardinals, it pretty much became a Bobby Abreu clubhouse. And, the same thing, you're not going to step on his toes, you're not going to try to outshine him. But, I felt that during those two transitions, I was being groomed and it was just a matter of time. You wait your turn, you don't try to go force anything, it was just a matter of time."
That time came in July of 2006, when the Phillies traded Abreu, one of the most accomplished hitters in franchise history, to the New York Yankees along with the late Cory Lidle. Rollins' moment to become the leader of the clubhouse arrived, but he admitted that he did initially struggle with no longer being around Abreu, who he has previously called his favorite teammate ever.
"I remember when Bobby was traded...I wasn't playing that day...and I went in the clubhouse and cried like a baby. That was my big brother. He had shown me so much...he had taken me under his wing. I asked him to work with me on hitting, he said 'OK," but he never came and got me, he made me tap him on his back and say 'Dude, you're gonna show me how to hit.' And that just formed our bond, so when they traded him, I was sad, I was heartbroken. I was like, 'How does this happen?' not really understanding the impact of the business of baseball. But then it also made me tougher. You get attached to people, but understand that this is a business and nothing is going to last forever.
And then going a step further, I was like 'Welp, there's no one standing in front of me. There's no one that I have to stand behind anymore. I can actually take the lampshade off and let me light shine, and really just come out like, 'Alright, this is my team. This is our team. As far as the new crop of guys, I've been here the longest...I've gone through some battles...I understand the city and it's time for a new way to go about business.'"
The Phillies acquired four prospects - Matt Smith, Jesus Sanchez, C.J. Henry and Carlos Monasterios - in the trade for Abreu, none of whom amounted to anything at the major league level. In that sense, Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick lost the trade that saw him part with an eventual Phillies' Wall of Famer.
That said, trading Abreu opened up right field for Shane Victorino, who would eventually become a Gold Glove outfielder and multiple time All-Star.
Perhaps more importantly, it opened up the door for Rollins to become the team leader. If Abreu is still with the team in 2007, would Rollins have felt emboldened enough to publicly declare the Phillies "the team to beat" in the National League East before what would ultimately be an MVP campaign for the shortstop? Maybe not, and Phillies history would have been changed forever.
You can listen to Glen and Ray's full interview with the Phillies' all-time hits leader below, beginning at the 1:22:55 mark.