ST. PETERSBURG -- Ted Williams or Kirk Gibson? Rod Carew or Mookie Wilson? Ernie Banks or Davey Lopes? The first name in each pair has a distinguished career that earned a Cooperstown plaque. The second won't see his likeness inside the National Baseball Hall of Fame, unless included as part of a World Series-winning team photo.
Given the choice between a Hall of Fame career or World Series ring, Jimmy Rollins will accept the latter."I'd rather win," he said, after his team completed the first of two Tropicana Field workouts Monday. "If you're talented enough and play long enough, and put up numbers, you'll get to the Hall of Fame. That doesn't make you a World Series winner." For that, you need a team, and Rollins is part of one that won the National League pennant handily, secured 92 wins during the regular season and breezed past the Brewers and Dodgers to advance. The Rays found a tougher road, but outlasted the Red Sox in seven games. The teams meet Wednesday, with Cole Hamels dealing against likely opponent Scott Kazmir. One team will win four games and be crowned the best team in the sport. No one will remember the second-place finisher. "If you finish second, you're not a winner, and no one will remember who lost," Rollins said. This Phillies team has won because of contributions from extra men like Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs and Shane Victorino, players who are shining at the right moment. Tampa Bay enters that equation with Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett. To further prove his point, Rollins cited the NBA's Robert Horry, a good player who earned the nickname "Big Shot Rob" because of his propensity for huge baskets in big spots. "Ultimately, it's about being a champion," Rollins said. "You can be a role player and play a key role in the biggest series or the biggest game of your life. To win a championship game -- the next season hit .250, or in basketball score 10 points a game -- but when the team needed you the most, you stepped up. You're always going to be known as a champion -- like Big Shot Rob. During the season, he'll hit a shot here or there, but when the game is on the line and the ball is in his hands, what does he have, six rings because of that? That's a pretty good career. "Does that make him a Hall of Famer? Maybe not, but man, that makes him a winner." Asked if he knew Horry, Rollins flashed his championship smile, and said, "No. I know his work, though." Rollins would love to be known as Big Hit Jim. He'll gladly accept it over Hall of Famer Rollins.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.