When a 22-year-old third baseman named Scott Rolen burst onto the scene in 1997 by winning the NL Rookie of the Year award, he won over the fans who followed the Phillies during some of the franchise’s darkest days.

For the next four years, the youngster with such promise was compared to one man and one man only:

Michael Jack Schmidt, the best third baseman in baseball history and the greatest player ever to wear a Phillies uniform.

Flash forward to 2010: Rolen returned to town this weekend as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, and Phillie fans welcomed him back home in the exact same way they have since 2002.

Scott Rolen was one of the finest players in Phillies history. Too bad he’ll never be remembered like that.

For Rolen, where did it all go so wrong?

After all, Rolen was a fan favorite during most of his time here, the late 1990’s. You know, back in the days of Nintendo 64, back when middle-school dance functions first played Britney Spears and ‘N Sync, and back when Monica Lewinski’s mug appeared on the cover of every magazine in America.

Back then, Rolen was the Phillies’ Chase Utley.

In Philadelphia today, it’s probably baseball blasphemy to mention Scott Rolen and Chase Utley in the same sentence. But, the two players actually have, and had, a lot in common.

For years, Utley has been the best all-around player on a Phillies team loaded with talent. Similarly, Rolen was the best all-around player on his Phillies teams that simply weren’t very good.

Remember what it was like to have Desi Relaford instead of Jimmy Rollins? Matt Beech instead of Cole Hamels? Mickey Morandini instead of Chase Utley?

Utley was, and still is, the absolute right guy at the absolute right time. Scott Rolen, on the other hand, was the absolute right guy at the absolute wrong time. Still, the similarities between the two run deeper than that.

1. Five-Tool Ability

They could both hit for average, hit for power, run, field, and throw. When Utley’s at his best, there’s nothing on the field he can’t do. The same could be said of Rolen during his tenure in Philly.

2. Gamers

Everyone knows Utley has tremendous on-field tenacity and intelligence. But anyone who watched the Phillies during the lean years knows that Rolen’s style was very similar. Both men played the game as hard as anyone. Scott was a smart base runner who went from first-to-third on a single whenever possible and broke up double plays with hard slides. His hot-corner defense was pretty good too….

3. Never a quote machine

Scott wasn’t a talker. Intel about his non-baseball activities was always confidential. Scott never seemed like a vocal clubhouse leader. Then again, neither has Chase Utley. Chase lets his play on the field do the talking. Rolen did the same. Has Utley ever given a real passionate quote over the years? Well, there was one….’08 World Series parade?

4. Chick Magnet

Yep. They flocked for the Scott Rolen jersey long before Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, or Cole Hamels appeared on the radar. The babes who at one point held up “Scotty’s a Hottie” signs at the Vet eventually converted to “Burrell’s Girls” a few years later.

Of course, Chase is pretty popular with the women, too. But Rolen’s female fanbase was even more impressive since a Phillies game during the late ‘90s wasn’t exactly considered the unparalleled social hotspot that it is today for people 15 to 25.

What’s Done Is Done. But It’s Still Sad.

Of course, the Phillies did their best to re-sign Rolen in March 2002, but Scott had feuded with management in the past year and was desperate to leave his losing team in favor of a serious contender.

Phillie fans didn’t like that.

Rolen turned down the Phils long-term contract offer. Through the entire first half of the 2002 season, the Philadelphia fanbase booed him before every at-bat and after every out he made.

The man who had been the Phillies most beloved player for six seasons was suddenly their most hated.

Think the fans were hard on Donovan McNabb? He had it easy by comparison.

When Rolen was traded to the Cardinals at the ’02 deadline, he spoke of St. Louis as “Baseball Heaven” and criticized the Philly fanbase. Considering the way he was treated over his final four months in town, could you really fault Rolen for saying what he said?

In Philadelphia today, Rolen is known as a malcontented mercenary who hated everything about the fans and the city.

Will Philadelphia ever welcome back Scott Rolen? Ever? Probably not.

Just don’t forget that during Bill Clinton’s second term in office there were pretty much only two reasons to watch a Phillies game. 1) To hear the great Harry Kalas. 2) To watch Philadelphia’s young third baseman do his thing….

A lot has changed in Philadelphia over the years, but one thing hasn’t. To this day, Scott Rolen is still compared to one man and one man only. But it isn’t Chase Utley, and it sure as hell ain’t Michael Jack Schmidt anymore:

It’s J.D. Drew.

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