Tale of Two Players; Curt Schilling & Scott Rolen

As opposing teams go, the St.Louis Cardinals probably bring out the highest decibel level of boos from the fans in Philadelphia. With the likes of J.D. Drew and now, Scott Rolen, the Cardinals hear it from every angle on their annual visits to the City of Brotherly Love. Meanwhile, another former Phillies, Curt Schilling is loved and welcomed back to town. Why does Rolen get booed and Schilling gets red carpet treatment from the fans in Philadelphia?

Scott Rolen quietly turned down a contract extension from the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 2002 season. He had decided that he wasn't sure about committing to the Phillies, who weren't exactly known for spending big money on players. Perhaps, more importantly, Rolen had thought long and hard about wanting to play closer to his Midwest roots and what that would be like for the rest of his career. Walking away from a guaranteed $140 million wasn't easy, but Rolen decided to take his chances and see what free agency had to offer. Rolen was never easy for teammates or fans to read and this was one of those times.

Not too long before Rolen reached his quiet decision, Curt Schilling went through some of the same discussions with himself, but he also took those discussions to the media. In the middle of his contract, Schilling let everybody know that he wasn't happy with Phillies management and that he wanted out. Schilling had been with the Phillies for a long time and had never failed to let his opinions show in public. Sometimes, that meant a session with the media and other times, it was as simple as a towel over his face when Mitch Williams walked to the mound. Teammates and fans alike always knew where Curt Schilling stood.

Someone in the Phillies organization leaked the news of Rolen's desire not to sign with the Phillies long-term. It wasn't Rolen; What would he have gained by leaking such news? That simple little leak caused a lot of problems. Perhaps, the culprit thought it would move things along and that Rolen would eventually sign. Perhaps, they thought that Rolen's desire to play closer to home was a smoke screen and that he could be brought around with a little media and fan pressure. It was a mistake that haunted the Phillies through spring training and only escalated once the season started.

Curt Schilling didn't need any leaks. He was very vocal time after time when asked about the Phillies organization. Everyone from Bill Giles to David Montgomery to Ed Wade were raked over the coals when Schilling went on one of his rants. It was somewhat of a scorched earth policy.

Rolen's manager Larry Bowa couldn't understand Rolen's reluctance to sign. The truth is that the two never saw eye-to-eye. There was a certain level of respect among the two, but they were very different people. At first, Bowa was seemingly caught in the middle. He tried to befriend Rolen, but also let him know that Philadelphia was the place where the young star should hang his hat for a long time to come. Eventually, the tide turned and Bowa openly feuded with his third baseman, eventually telling the press that "he's killing us." Bowa to this day says that he said "They're killing us," referring to the middle of the lineup. Reporters in attendance agree to a person that the word was "he".

Curt Schilling played for Terry Francona. You'll never meet a nicer guy than Terry Francona, but you will meet better managers. Francona and Rolen were kindred spirits, preferring to lead quietly and avoid confrontation. As Phillies manager, Francona stayed as far away from the Schilling controversy as he could. He ran his ace out there, let him throw as many innings as he could, complimented him on the effort and made generic comments about wanting to have Schilling around as long as he was around. You have to wonder how Schilling's situation would have played out if Larry Bowa was around in those days.

A striking difference was the reaction of the front office. Dallas Green went on Philadelphia radio and offered up a hatchet job of the Phillies third baseman. The theory was that Green wasn't just having a bad day and mouthing off a little too much. The story goes that he was a messenger from the Phillies front office, meant to send a strong message that Rolen wasn't the kind of guy that Phillies fans loved. Then, there was the anonymous "cancer" quote from a still unknown player in the Phillies clubhouse, stating that Rolen had "become a cancer" behind the closed doors. At one time or another, almost every Phillies player had the finger of accusation pointed at them for that remark, including manager Larry Bowa. None of the accusations stuck and with Rolen's popularity sinking, fans didn't care who allegedly made the remark, just that it was out there and that it was allegedly true.

In Schilling's day, the front office gave only scant thoughts. Statements about their commitment to winning and how they wanted Schilling to be a part of those winning teams that would be coming along in the near future. Basically, they bore the brunt of the slings and arrows fired their way and tried for a peaceful resolution to the situation. Dallas Green stayed away from radio interviews in those days. Teammates shied away from the 800 pound gorilla that Schilling had become and resisted even anonymous statements.

In retrospect, both players were wrong about the Phillies. Neither trusted Ed Wade or anyone else in the organization that talked of winning days in the not too distant future. Both wanted out and while they took different approaches, it was clear that both were in their final days as members of the Philadelphia Phillies.

History shows that neither trade really did much for the history of the Phillies. Vicente Padilla has become a solid pitcher and Placido Polanco has shown himself to be a pleasant surprise for Phillies fans with his hard-nosed style of play.

So, why is Rolen booed when he returns to Philly and fans clamor over every mention of any rumor that would have Schilling once again don a Phillies uniform. The reasons are probably many. First, the PR job that was done on Rolen sank his career in Philly. Larry Bowa, one of the more popular Phillies of all-time, had become bigger than his all-star third baseman and his quote about Rolen "killing" the Phillies was all the fan base needed. Curt Schilling was smart enough to talk long and hard about the deserving fans of Philadelphia. He was right. Phillies fans are among the greatest in sports and probably deserved better than what they had in town during Schilling's latter years here. Another reason is simply the people involved. Philadelphia loves straight shooters like Schilling. Rolen might have been better off if he faced the controversy straight on and said that while the fans of Philadelphia are great, the front office wasn't and that was why he wanted out. Instead, he tried to keep the situation quiet and side-stepped questions, if he would provide any answer at all.

Scott Rolen could have become the second best third baseman ever to play in Philadelphia. Some even think that defensively, he is even better than the great Mike Schmidt. Some, still think that he is the second greatest third baseman Philadelphia has ever known. Honesty is a good thing. Rolen was honest about his desires to play close to home. Integrity is a good thing. Going home cost Rolen close to $50 million, but like the commercial says…"being close to home: priceless".

Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen are both as great of people off the field as they are on the field. Who knows where the Phillies would be had they kept both players happy. Would they be better? Would they be worse? Would they have signed Jim Thome or traded for Kevin Millwood? Nobody knows for sure. For both players though, things have worked out pretty well. Schilling found his way to the World Series with the Arizona Diamondbacks and still might wind up his career in a Phillies uniform. Rolen is close to home and while he hasn't found a World Series ring anywhere near St.Louis, he's still hoping that he will someday and with the young players in Cardinal uniforms, it's very possible. Happiness is priceless and so are the memories that both players brought to Phillies fans.

Either you can't blame either player for leaving or you have to blame both players for leaving. You can't have it both ways. Love them or hate them, Rolen and Schilling handled things the way they saw fit and both found their tickets out of town punched by the Phillies. The only difference is that for one of the players, the trips back are much easier. They shouldn't be, but they are.

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