McGriff, Rolen savor induction in Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

The galaxy of stars in Cooperstown increased by two on Sunday with the additions of Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen to the Hall of Fame as the Class of 2023.

With their bronze plaques waiting, the pair gave their induction speeches under ideal conditions – partly sunny, a slight wind and the temperature 78 degrees at the start – on the grounds of Cooperstown’s Clark Sports Center in front of a live national television audience on MLB Network. It was the 74th edition of the Induction Ceremony.

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Continuing a summer tradition that dates back to 1939, the 2023 induction was held on stage with 48 returning Hall of Famers. The two newest members of this exclusive fraternity would speak of their families, thank teammates, coaches and managers, have the occasional emotional moment and try their best to put into words what being a Hall of Famer now means to them.

“As I’ve said many times before,” Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark said at the beginning of the ceremony, “the National Baseball Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery is an extraordinary place and no one has described it better than Joe Morgan, our late friend, a member of the Hall of Fame’s class of 1991 and the past vice chairman of our board, when he said, ‘Walking into the plaque gallery is like walking on … man … holy ground.’ And I don’t think there’s a man sitting behind me that would disagree with that.

“Both Scott and Fred have had tremendous baseball careers, and like the men that they’re joining, define the greatness of the game with their character, integrity and sportsmanship.”

This year started a new tradition with the new Hall of Famers receiving their ring onstage. In the past, they’d receive this ring – which recognizes each Hall of Famer with his last name, position and year of induction – at a private member’s dinner.

“I’d like to welcome everyone here from Atlanta to San Diego, Toronto, my hometown of Tampa Bay and everywhere in between. Thank you for showing up,” McGriff said. “It is awesome to be here accepting this honor. What a blessing from the man upstairs. Beautiful weather. You can’t beat it. I’m so grateful to be going into the Baseball Hall of Fame alongside a guy like Scott Rolen who played the game the right way. A true professional. I want to thank the many living legends sitting behind me. I’m humbled and honored to be standing in front of you. And now to be part of this fraternity alongside you - just some great individuals behind me.”

McGriff, 59, was elected by the Contemporary Baseball Players Era Committee in December. He began his major league career in 1986 and went on to play 19 seasons, including five with the Blue Jays, Braves and Devil Rays, three with the Padres, two with the Cubs and one with the Dodgers. The owner of a career .284 batting average, the lefty-swinger totaled 493 home runs and 1,550 RBI in 2,460 games. A five-time All-Star, he won the Silver Slugger Award for first basemen three times and hit 30 or more home runs 10 times. In 1995, he helped lead the Braves to their first world championship in Atlanta. In 10 postseason series, he batted .303 with 10 home runs, 37 RBI and 100 total bases.

The lanky first baseman ended his speech trying to put his induction into perspective.

“This is baseball’s biggest honor. This is like icing on a cake. You see, my goal was simply to make it to the big leagues. And I exceeded every expectation that I could ever imagine and then some,” McGriff said. “It is a great feeling getting recognized for your hard work. And now to have a plaque forever hanging in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s unbelievable.”

Rolen was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in January in his sixth year on the ballot. He burst onto the baseball scene as the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year and would go on to win eight Gold Glove Awards and make seven All-Star teams. A lifetime .281 hitter and 2002 NL Silver Slugger for third base, he clubbed 316 home runs with a career OPS of .855. Among third basemen, the Indiana native ranks in the Top 10 for WAR, while defensively only Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Nolan Arenado have won more Gold Glove Awards than he did at the hot corner. He batted .421 in the 2006 World Series helping the Cardinals to a Fall Classic crown.

After recognizing from the podium the players from his son’s 15-year-old baseball team, which he coaches, the Indiana Bulls from Bloomington, Ind., that were in the crowd, Rolen thanked the baseball writers for having faith in him and sticking with him throughout his career in the voting process.

“I’m grateful for this grand gesture,” Rolen said. “I have an overwhelming respect and intend to represent these men behind me and this legendary Hall with the integrity on which it was built.”

A sturdy third sacker, the Indiana native becomes just the ninth third baseman elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. He played 17 seasons from 1996 through 2012, splitting his time between the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds. Selected out of high school by the Phillies in the second of the 1993 amateur draft, Rolen collected at least 20 home runs in 10 seasons and reached the 100-RBI mark five times. He is one of only four third basemen in history (players who appeared in at least 50 percent of their games at third base) with at least 300 home runs, 100 stolen bases and 500 doubles, along with Adrian Beltré, George Brett and Chipper Jones.

Rolen relayed a dialogue with his father that helped him throughout his life.

“Often people ask me how I got here, how I got there. What’s the secret? I actually have my answer. My answer came from my dad related to basketball, not baseball,” Rolen said. “So without much surprise, there’s a heavy tradition of basketball in the state of Indiana. One such example was a series of two games between the Indiana All-Stars and the Kentucky All-Stars played at the end of the summer. I had previously been drafted by the Phillies and spent the summer playing high school baseball, not basketball, and had not picked up a basketball for two months.

“We had a three-day minicamp with two practices per day in Lafayette. After day one, I told Dad that I had a minor problem. He was camping up there, of course, and I said, ‘Dad, I have a minor problem that I need advice with.’ And his answer: ‘OK.’ ‘Well Dad, I can’t handle the ball. I can’t shoot. I’m completely out of basketball shape. And everybody in the entire gym, including the coach, is better than me.’ And his answer: ‘OK.’ ‘What do you mean, OK?’ ‘Well, what are you going to do Scotty? ‘Well, that’s what I’m asking you dad.’ ‘You say you can’t dribble, you can’t shoot, you’re out of shape. And you’re completely overmatched. You told me what you can’t do? What can you do?’ ‘I guess I can rebound.’ ‘OK.’ ‘I can play defense.’ ‘OK.’ ‘I can dive for loose balls. It doesn’t appear that the guys are playing too hard up here. I can outhustle outwork and beat everybody up and down the floor.’ ‘OK.’

“And then here came the words of wisdom. ‘Well, do that then.’ It turns out that, ‘Well, do that then’ carried me into the minor leagues and gave me a simple mindset that I would never allow myself to be unprepared or outworked. ‘Well, do that then’ put me on this stage today.”

Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen show off their Hall of Fame plaques, which were installed later Sunday night by family members in the Plaque Gallery. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“If you walk through the Plaque Gallery at the Hall, you will be blown away by baseball greatness. Baseball greatness is sitting behind me and every person has their story and they told it right here. These stories are not all the same. But I’m not standing here today from my baseball greatness. Nor have I played one day in my life to prove anybody wrong. I’m standing here today from a basketball lesson that Dad walked me through in 1993: ‘Well, do that then.’ I now know this phrase is an intentional mindset. That effort never takes a day off. I believe in putting in the quantity to know what quality is. I believe in the process. I believe in the approach. I believe in the work. And I’m forever grateful for this advice. Well, Dad, ‘I did that then.’”

At the end, Rolen put his baseball career in proper perspective.

“I’ll finish with this. In baseball, I am a Jasper (Ind.) Wildcat. I am an Indiana Bull. I am Philadelphia Phillie. I am a St Louis Cardinal. I am a Toronto Blue Jay. I am a Cincinnati Red. And today, because of all your support, I’m a National Baseball Hall of Famer.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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