Rolen stands alone in BBWAA Hall of Fame vote

Written by: Bill Francis

Scott Rolen, a hot corner maestro known for his defensive wizardry at third and considerable ability in the batter’s box, has been added to the sport’s greatest roster.  

The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s star-studded lineup increased by one when the results of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame vote were announced a little after 6 p.m. on Jan. 24 live on MLB Network from the iconic Plaque Gallery. Surrounded by the bronze images of 340 of the National Pastime’s forever figures, the 47-year-old Rolen’s name was called by Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch in front of a national audience.

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“Tonight, we are pleased to announce the addition of one new member to the Hall of Fame fraternity,” Rawitch said. “A two-way superstar … today Scott Rolen becomes a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Scott, welcome to Cooperstown.”

The Class of 2023 – which also includes Fred McGriff via the Contemporary Baseball Players Era Committee vote in December – will be inducted on Sunday, July 23, in Cooperstown.

Only an hour after Rolen received the much-anticipated phone call at his home in Bloomington, Ind., informing him that he had joined baseball immortals, the Hall of Fame’s newest electee took part in Zoom media conference call.

“First of all, I think it goes without saying thank you to all the baseball writers in the association and across the country, whether with a vote or without a vote,” Rolen said in an opening statement. “I really appreciate everything. I enjoyed my career. I enjoyed my time and everybody’s professionalism. So that being said, I appreciate everything.”

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. The unanimous National League Rookie of the Year in 1997, he was a seven-time All-Star (2002-06, 2010-11) and eight-time Gold Glove Award winner at third base (1998, 2000-04, 2006, 2010). The NL Silver Slugger Award for third basemen in 2002, he finished fourth in 2004 NL Most Valuable Player voting.

The Indiana native, selected out of high school by the Phillies in the second of the 1993 amateur 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).

Rolen finished his career with a .281 batting average on 2,077 hits, compiled a .364 on-base percentage, socked 316 home runs, clubbed 517 doubles, collected 1,287 RBI and stole 118 bases. 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.

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 was a shortstop and pitched a little bit and then through high school I played right field, center field, left field, second, third and short in the same year,” Rolen said. “I kind of kept growing and there was another kid that played shortstop and I got moved over to third base and caught a little attention, I guess, in the summer. That’s just kind of where they kept me and I never played anywhere after that.

“I took pride in defense and baserunning. I thought those are two aspects that I could really contribute on a daily basis on the field.”

In the postseason, the right-handed batting Rolen appeared in nine series, hitting .220 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 39 games. In 2006, he hit .421 with five runs scored in five games to help the Cardinals win the World Series.

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 debuted on the ballot in 2018 and received 10.2 percent of the vote.

“There was actually never a point in my life that I thought I was going to be a Hall of Fame baseball player. So we can start there. Never did I think I was going get drafted, never did I think I was going to play in the major leagues. And then certainly when I make the ballot, it’s a great honor,” Rolen recalled. “And what was funny is, I was coaching my son’s basketball team at the time, and we were sitting in the parking lot the very first time through. He was probably in fourth grade or fifth grade and we’re going to go have a horrendous practice. We were listening on the radio before we went in and he was asking me a bunch of questions, and I said ‘I need 5 percent. And that’s all I need. And he’s like, ‘Dad, I think you’re getting in’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, man. I don’t think so.’ That was the year Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman and Vlad Guerrero got in. A big ballot. We heard that I was 10.2 percent and I was still on the ballot. And he says to me, ‘Did we win?’ I said, ‘Oh, we won.’”

Rolen received five more votes than the total of 292 needed be elected. The most recent electee to edge even closer over the 75 percent BBWAA threshold was catcher Iván Rodríguez, a first-year candidate in 2017 who received votes on 76.0 percent of total ballots (336-of-442), four more votes than the 332 needed for election.

“I didn’t need to follow the ballot tracking because my phone would blow up about every day from my son and my buddies and everybody telling me where it was almost on a daily basis,” Rolen said with a laugh. “I was kind of in tune, but with the private ballots that don’t come in obviously there are a lot of unknowns.”

This year’s BBWAA ballot featured 28 players, including 14 first-year candidates. Others who received votes on more than 50 percent of the ballots included Todd Helton (72.2%), Billy Wagner (68.1%), Andruw Jones (58.1%), Gary Sheffield (55.0%). In his 10th and final season on the ballot, Jeff Kent received 181 votes (46.5). Carlos Beltrán was the top vote getter among first-year candidates, receiving 46.5 percent of the vote.

Rolen’s only visit to Cooperstown came, he estimates, about 25 years ago when he stopped in the small Upstate New York village on the way to Boston from Indianapolis for New Year’s Eve.

“I remember driving by the lake and there was ice fishing going on. I’m like, ‘Wow, this place is really cool,’” he said. “But now I remember just how beautiful and clean everything was.”

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.

“Congratulations to Fred,” Rolen said. “I was young when Fred was there, and he just dominated the game. I played him so many times. When he was in Atlanta and I was in awe by how large the man was at first base. I have the most respect for Fred. I’d kind of been wishing that he would have gotten voted in a long, long time ago. But it’ll be fantastic. It couldn’t be a better person to go in with.”

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