Rolen embracing upcoming journey to Cooperstown
Three days after receiving the phone call with the career-defining news that he had been selected to the game’s greatest ballclub, a still beaming Scott Rolen was donning the Hall of Fame jersey reserved for only a select few.
Having had some time to reflect on his recent election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, Rolen took part in a midafternoon press conference held at the MLB Network Studios in Secaucus, N.J., on Jan. 27.
Speaking with the assembled media, the longtime third baseman known for his defensive prowess and powerful bat talked about the journey in becoming a member of the National Pastime’s most exclusive fraternity.
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With candidates needing to appear on at least 75 percent of all ballots cast to earn election, Rolen, in his sixth year on the BBWAA ballot, received 297 of the 389 votes for a percentage of 76.3. He made an impressive climb after debuting on the ballot in 2018 and receiving only 10.2 percent of the vote. This year, Rolen received five more votes than the total of 292 needed to be elected.
The two-member Hall of Fame Class of 2023 – which also includes Contemporary Baseball Era Committee electee Fred McGriff – will be inducted on Sunday, July 23, in Cooperstown.
“And then I enjoyed playing basketball, baseball, football, tennis, all the sports, and played with our buddies and played pickup ball. Then I get drafted. And that’s fantastic. And I start playing and I started learning what work ethic is and how you work. Then I have coaches that finetune what I’m actually trying to do – I’m not just running around trying to sweat. I’m actually focused in on some things that I’m trying to get better at my game defensively and learn how to run bases and who I’m going to be as a player. It was a way that I could take just a hard work ethic maybe that I got back from Southern Indiana and learn how to do it, focus on my work and realize that if I’m going to stay here in Major League Baseball, if I’m going to be here, I have a little bit of ability, but I can outwork everybody on this field every single day. So, let’s give that a shot.”
A sturdy third sacker, listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds during his playing career, Rolen – just the ninth third basemen elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA – 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 MLB Draft, collected at least 20 home runs in 10 seasons (1997-2004, 2006, 2010), hit .300-or-better in two seasons (2004, 2009), reached the 100-RBI mark in five seasons (1998, 2001-04) and scored 100-or-more runs twice (1998, 2004). 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 Adrián Beltré, George Brett and Chipper Jones.
Asked about an opportunity to attending the University of Georgia on a basketball scholarship after high school, Rolen said being drafted by Philadelphia changed everything.
“That became the best opportunity for me, certainly, to further my baseball career I thought,” Rolen said, “not just because I can go play baseball, but it just seemed like a good fit and a good setup. And like I said, my parents traveled their motorhome and followed me everywhere, so I got through some of the homesick part, too.”
Defensively, Rolen, who ranks 12th all-time with 2,023 games played at third base, led the NL in putouts by third basemen twice (1997, 1998) and assists twice (2002, 2004).
“I went through my whole career and I never asked for a day off. Not that I didn’t accept them,” Rolen said. “Quick story, and he may not remember this, but I was young and we were playing exhibition game against the Orioles, I went over and knocked on the clubhouse door and asked if I could speak to Mr. Ripken. He came out, and he’d broken the record and done everything, and in my head I wanted to play every day. I wanted to play every game. I didn’t want to break his record, obviously, that wasn’t the thing. But I wanted to know what are we dealing with here?
“And he gave me some incredible advice, that I hold the place on my team in the lineup whether I’m going to be good or not good. That doesn’t matter. There’s some accountability to have for your position on the field and your position in the lineup. And even if you know that you’re going to go 0-for-3 or 0-for-4, that other manager may have to make a move around you even though you know you have no chance. So, you can have a result in the outcome of a game by just being there and showing up and doing your job and playing.”
Rolen and McGriff will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 23, on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.
Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum