The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has won exactly two World Series championships over the course of 137 seasons of play. Those two world titles came in 1980 and 2008.
As part of our season-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of that 1980 team championship, I am comparing those two great Phillies teams to see whether either can legitimately be considered as having been better than the other.
I got to enjoy each of those seasons, the first as an 18-year-old in October of 1980 and the next as a 46-year-old in October 2008. As a huge Phillies and baseball fan who has followed the club all the way back to 1971, I feel extremely qualified to hold an educated opinion on the subject.
Thus far the series has examined the third basemen, catchers, pitching rotations, bullpens, and bench groups. Those pieces can be found linked below. Once this evaluation series ends, I’ll do a final wrap-up piece in which I will give my opinion as to which – if either – of these two Phillies championship teams was the better all-around squad.
Today we take a look at two of the best defensive shortstop in baseball over the last half-century of the game’s history, and two of the most popular ballplayers in the history of the Phillies franchise. Each was a cornerstone for their respective championship clubs.
1980: LARRY BOWA
Bowa’s father, Paul Bowa, was a minor league infielder and coach in the Saint Louis Cardinals system. That didn’t help the son, who failed to make his high school team in Sacramento, California.
After playing college ball at Sacramento City College, Bowa went undrafted. The Phillies had some interest, but Bowa was thrown out for arguing when scout Eddie Bockman went to see him play. It was only the first of many such outbursts by Bowa while associated with the club.
Bockman gave Bowa a chance to play at a local winter league, and the 20-year-old excelled, prompting the Phillies to sign him to a contract. After a strong 1966 season, Bowa struggled at the plate in both 1967 and 1968. But his soft hands and strong arm at the shortstop position combined with that fiery personality kept him moving through the system.
In 1969, Bowa hit well at Triple-A Eugene and showed that he was ready for a shot at the big-leagues. As the franchise prepared for its final season at Connie Mack Stadium in 1970, the Phillies began transitioning to a new, younger group of players. In October 1969 they dealt away starting first baseman Dick Allen and second baseman Cookie Rojas, partially to make room for those players.
For that 1970 campaign, 23-year-old Don Money was moved from shortstop to third base. The second base position was turned over to 26-year-old Denny Doyle, and the 24-year-old Bowa became the starting shortstop.
Bowa would establish himself as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball over the next decade. He won NL Gold Glove Awards in both 1972 and 1978, and probably should have won a handful more during an era when voters often handed the honor out based more on offensive production than defensive excellence. He was also an NL All-Star in five of six seasons between 1974-79.
In that 1980 championship season, Bowa was a 34-year-old veteran who was playing in his 11th season in Major League Baseball. He hit .267 that year with 21 stolen bases, his seventh straight and ninth of 11 years swiping 20 or more bags.
For the epic National League Championship Series victory over the Houston Astros, Bowa hit .316 with a .409 on-base percentage. In the clinching Game 5 of the NLCS he produced one of the most pivotal hits at a most desperate time.
With the Phillies trailing the Astros by 5-2 and future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan on the mound, Bowa led off the top of the 8th inning with a sharp base hit to center field. He would later score the first run in a five-run outburst that would drive Ryan from the game and gave the Phillies a 7-5 lead.
Bowa would also single to lead the top of the 9th, eventually making his way around to third base on a sacrifice bunt and a ground out. He was left stranded there, 90 feet away from scoring the go-ahead run. Fortunately the Phillies would win it in 10 innings, capturing the National League pennant and advancing to the World Series for the first time in 30 years.
In that Fall Classic against the Kansas City Royals, Bowa hit safely in all six games and finished with a .375 average on the series, scoring three times and driving in two runs. During the bottom of the 5th inning in Game 2 of the World Series, Bowa delivered an RBI single off Larry Gura to score Garry Maddox, giving the Phillies an early 2-0 lead in a game they would eventually rally to win by 6-4.
2008: JIMMY ROLLINS
“JRoll” was the Phillies second round selection in the 1996 MLB Amateur Draft at 46th overall out of Encinal High School in Alameda, California. Rollins was from a family of athletes, the best of whom just may have been his pro softball-playing mother. He grew up an A’s fan in the Oakland area.
In that summer of 1996, the 17-year-old Rollins would travel across country to start his pro career with the Phillies rookie-level farm club in Martinsville, Virginia. The following year at Low-A Piedmont he earned a share of the organizational Paul Owens Award. Through the balance of the 1990’s, Rollins would work his way through the Phillies system.
In 2000, Rollins helped lead Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre to a playoff berth. One the Red Barons were eliminated, he was called to the big-leagues for the first time. Phillies shortstop play that year had been split between Desi Relaford, Tomas Perez, and Alex Arias. None was blocking Rollins, who was immediately installed by manager Terry Francona as the new starter at the position.
Over 14 games through the end of that 2000 season, 11 of those as a starter, Rollins hit .321 and played a strong defensive shortstop. Rollins took over as the starter in 2001 and finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Albert Pujols and future teammate Roy Oswalt. He would spend the next 14 seasons as the Phillies starter at the position and eventually become the franchise all-time hits leader.
In 2007, Rollins made a preseason statement that the Phillies were “the team to beat”, even though the New York Mets were the defending NL East champions and widely considered the division favorites once again. He backed up those words with an NL MVP campaign during which Rollins became just the seventh player in MLB history to record a season with at least 20 home runs, doubles, and triples.
In that 2008 championship season, Rollins was a 29-year-old who had played in his eighth full season of Major League Baseball. During the regular season he hit .277 with 58 extra-base hits, 47 stolen bases, and would win his second of three straight and four career Gold Glove Awards.
The Phillies entered the month of September trailing the Mets by two games. In that final month, Rollins hit .313 with ten extra-base hits, 15 runs scored, and nine stolen bases as the Phillies pushed past New York and won the division on the next-to-last day of the season.
In the four-game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, Rollins hit .375 with two doubles and a homer. That home run facing Jeff Suppan led off the clinching Game 4 of the 2008 NLDS and started the Phillies on their way to a 6-2 victory.
Rollins was then held in check by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Phillies five-game NLCS victory. He hit just .143 in that series, but delivered one big blow. In the clinching Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS at Dodger Stadium, Rollins did as he had in the NLDS. He led off the game with a home run off Chad Billingsley, starting the Phillies on their way to a 5-1 victory and the first NL pennant in 15 years.
In the five-game World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, Rollins hit just .227 but contributed a pair of doubles while scoring four runs. With the series tied at a game apiece, Rollins produced five hits over Phillies victories in Game 3 and Game 4 of the Fall Classic.
I love Larry Bowa. No one has meant more to the Philadelphia Phillies franchise during my lifetime. Over more than a half-century as a player, coach, manager, and now team advisor he has been front-and-center for almost every major happening involving the ball club. He is a well-deserved Wall of Famer who is beloved by the fan base for his fiery personality and his open and honest evaluations of players and situations.
That said, this one goes to Jimmy Rollins. As great a glove man as Bowa was – and he was indeed a defensive wizard – Rollins was every bit as good. What elevates Rollins to this positional victory is the offensive side of the game, where JRoll has it all over Bowa.
Over parts of 15 seasons in a Phillies uniform, Rollins amassed a franchise-record 2,306 hits. He also produced 231 home runs, 511 doubles, 115 triples, scored 1421 runs, drove in 930 runs, and stole 470 bases. He was the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player when he also earned a Silver Slugger Award, a three-time NL All-Star, and a four-time Gold Glove Award winner.
Next time around this positional comparison series will feature one of the most popular players in Phillies history and perhaps the greatest ever for the franchise at the second base position. ‘The Man’ will be compared to the man who will be honored as the next enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame.
1980 vs 2008 SERIES TO DATE
4.02.20 – THIRD BASE
3.30.20 – CATCHERS
3.24.20 – BENCH GROUPS
3.20.20 – RELIEF PITCHING
3.18.20 – STARTING PITCHING