Hall of Fame or not, Phillies should retire numbers of Utley and Rollins

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

This past Spring Training, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki wrote an interesting piece looking at the five numbers that the Philadelphia Phillies currently have frozen — No. 51, No. 6, No. 35., No. 26 and No. 11 — and when the team will allow the numbers to be circulated again. The numbers, of course, were worn by franchise icons Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, respectively, during the team's 2007-2011 run of National League dominance.

The team essentially has three options they could take with the numbers; they could unfreeze them, they could keep them frozen indefinitely, or they could retire them. As Zolecki noted in his piece, the team only has six numbers currently retired — Jim Bunning's No. 14, Richie Ashburn's No. 1, Mike Schmidt's No. 20, Steve Carlton's No. 32, Robin Roberts' No. 36 and the universally retired number of 42, which was worn by Jackie Robinson. All five of the Phillies' players on that list have their numbers retired because they are in the Hall of Fame.

There isn't one answer for what to do with all five of these numbers, but I would suggest that the Phillies retire Utley's No. 26 and Rollins' No. 11, regardless of whether they are eventually voted into the Hall of Fame or not.

The Hall of Fame cases of both can be debated at another time, but my guess it that both are likely to draw serious consideration but fall short of induction. That doesn't change the fact that the story of the Phillies can't be written without these two.

Rollins is the all-time leader for the Phillies in hits and doubles, made three All-Star teams, won four Gold Glove Awards, won the 2007 National League MVP and was integral in the team winning the 2008 World Series.

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Utley had a WAR over 60 during the parts of 13 seasons he spent in Philadelphia. He never won an MVP, but had he not broken his hand late in July of 2007, he may have won the MVP instead of Rollins that year. Utley was a six-time All-Star during his time with the team, won four Silver Slugger Awards, was a very good fielder and helped the club win the 2008 World Series. Had injuries not slowed Utley during his early-30s, he would have been a lock Hall of Famer. Even still, his advanced statistics still suggest that he's one of the 15 best second basemen of all-time and had one of the greatest five-year peaks of any second baseman in the history of the sport. 

For what it is worth, Jim Bunning, whose No. 14 is retired by the organization, did have a better career than Utley or Rollins. He didn't, however, have a better Phillies career than the two. That's not to say he wasn't impactful during his six seasons in Philadelphia — he was, appropriately, ranked No. 14 on our top 25 Phillies of all-time countdown — but his Phillies career simply was not better than that of Utley or Rollins. Most people would be much more likely to balk at someone else getting to wear No. 26 or No. 11 in a Phillies jersey again than No. 14. 

Additionally, Grover Cleveland Alexander and Chuck Klein don't have retired numbers, but they have a plaque with the logo that the Phillies had while they played, essentially suggesting that their numbers would be retired if uniform numbers were a thing during Alexander's career or if Klein had been synonymous with one number. Utley and Rollins did not have better Phillies careers than Alexander, but they ranked a few spots higher than Klein on our rankings of the top 25 Phillies of all-time. 

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Some will suggest that retiring the numbers of Rollins and Utley, assuming they don't get inducted into the Hall of Fame, waters down the accomplishment and is a slippery slope. I disagree. The Phillies organization has existed since 1883 and Rollins and Utley were the two most important players during what was the greatest run the team has ever had. That type of situation, at least as far as the Phillies are concerned, doesn't present itself regularly. 

As far as the rest? If Hamels is eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame, then the Phillies should retire his number. If not, then they shouldn't. Ruiz's number should remain frozen for a while, but eventually it's going to have to be reissued. As for Howard, between 2006 and 2009, Howard hit 198 home runs, drove in 572 runs and was a key cog in the team's 2008 World Series title. The problem is that from 2012 to 2016, he was undeniably a bad player. According to High Heat stats, he actually posted the worst WAR from age 32 on in the history of baseball. It's not as though Howard just had one ugly season at the end of his time with the team, he had a half decade worth of really bad seasons. That doesn't erase what he did from 2005-2011, but it would keep me from retiring his number. Instead, it would be appropriate to have the number iced for at least a decade. 

By no means is this a report, but my guess is that the Phillies will eventually retire the numbers of Utley and Rollins. Whether someone ends up wearing either of the numbers in the meantime remains to be seen. I do believe that once those two have their numbers retired, there will be a crowd of people that argue for Howard's case to have his No. 6 retired, but my guess is the organization won't do that. Hamels' case, as mentioned previously, will likely rest on whether he's inducted in the Hall of Fame, which may take two decades to find out. Someone will probably wear No. 35 before then. Ruiz's number will eventually be reissued, because 51 is often a popular number with starting pitchers or outfielders. The team is likely to wait a few years, as they did with Charlie Manuel's No. 41, before doing that. 

Chase utley and jimmy rollins