Playing an entire career with a single team does something to break the brains of baseball fans. Guys with “team loyalty” are given way more leeway and ranked higher than similar performers with a few more airline miles under their belt. I’ve always preferred it when players shuffle around more, going to where they can best perform and leaving dysfunctional organizations.
Derek Jeter is one of those players that gets a little boost from two decades of Yankee pinstripes. Durability and almost 3,500 career hits provide the bulk of his well-deserved reputation. Even with these accomplishments, I wonder how his career would be viewed if he racked up the same totals while playing for a half dozen mid-tier teams. Imagine Jeter compiling his stats in a series of five-year stints in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Toronto, and Cincinnati.
Jeter had a contemporary that often appears next to him in WAR rankings. Scott Rolen made his MLB debut within a year of the Yankee shortstop. Both players won their respective leagues’ Rookie of the Year awards in 1996 and 1997. Rolen was much, much better on defense and hit with more power. Both players finished well within the top 10 of WAR generated during their playing years. Rolen was able to accomplish this despite recurring injuries that ultimately shortened his career.
Rolen’s performance played a key part in winning games for his teams. He averaged more than 5 WAR per 162 games over the course of his career. On this metric he was the third best player in the game from 1997-2004, trailing only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez and beating McGwire, Sosa, and Griffey during their extended years chasing home run records.
Despite this, he was never quite the face of any particular franchise. Injuries kept him out of several key pennant chase moments, something hometown fans seemed to hold against him rather than considering they wouldn’t have even been in contention without him. Rolen seemed to get on the wrong side of problematic managers with big egos and limited intellectual talents (I’m looking at you Larry Bowa and Tony La Russa). This, combined with unease over the durability of his oft-injured shoulder, led to his leaving several teams early. That’s why I like Scott Rolen.
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