Rolen speechless after emotional visit to Hall

Written by: Bill Francis

Scott Rolen got his first tangible glimpse of immortality when he found himself in an oak-walled hall in Cooperstown.

Surrounding him were the bronze likenesses of the best of the best in the game’s long history.

This summer Rolen will find himself among the 342 who are now on baseball’s greatest team.

About a month after receiving the telephone call of a lifetime, the Hall of Fame Class of 2023 member was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for his Orientation Visit on Feb. 28. After wrapping up a morning of touring the Museum, he took questions from the assembled media in the Plaque Gallery.

“I’m sure people there have been people sitting here that have been speechless and I’m one of them,” said Rolen, his wife Niki, daughter Raine and son Finn standing nearby. “I’m so excited and thankful for my family to be healthy and have the opportunity to share this with us in July. What they’re going to feel in this room, this is special place. It’s electric. I know what’s going to happen when my parents, my brother and sister, and our family get to spend some time in here.”


Scott Rolen, right, shares a moment with (from left) wife Niki, son Finn and daughter Raine in front of a photo of the 1939 induction class in the Museum during his Orientation Visit on Feb. 28. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

In introducing Rolen, Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark talked about the unique achievement Hall of Fame election represents.

“As we stand here in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery, we’re surrounded by plaques describing the legendary careers of baseball’s greatest legends,” Clark said. “The players on these walls represent only one percent of every man to play Major League Baseball in its history. One percent. And on July 23, Scott, your plaque will be joining theirs. And you’re now on the same team as all of these greats.

“So, it’s my pleasure, Scott, to ask you to please put on your new team jersey. And we think it’s the best team you’ve ever been on.”

It was then that Rolen donned his Hall of Fame jersey with help from Clark and Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch, then was escorted to where his plaque will be found after the July 23 Induction Ceremony.

Rolen was the lone electee from the 2023 Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote announced Jan. 24. 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.

Asked whether it had sunk in yet that he was now in the special company of the likes of Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays and Ty Cobb, the Indiana native who still calls the Hoosier State home seem perplexed for a moment.

“What do other people answer to that? I would like to hear some other people answer that question because I don’t know how it’s possible,” Rolen replied. “As we’re walking through here and you’re seeing Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, that’s not me. That’s a whole world of baseball greatness that’s unbelievable. And not just baseball. There’s so much more to it in this Museum. It’s an honor to just even be considered in the era that I played in the game to have some achievements. But the whole package I’ll never be able to figure out.

“When you actually have teammates, and you know then as humans, as people, as fathers, that’s kind of a special thing. When get to see Walk’s [Larry Walker] and Doc’s [Roy Halladay] plaque and know them more as the time you spent with them as human beings.”

When Rolen first entered the Plaque Gallery, the new Hall of Famer made sure to check out the bronze images of Jackie Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith, Walker and Halladay.

Rolen 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 Gloves than he did at the hot corner. He batted .421 in the 2006 World Series helping the Cardinals to a Fall Classic crown.

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 round of the 1993 amateur draft, he finished his career with 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).

According to Rolen, life has changed since he received the phone call welcoming him to the Cooperstown family.

“It has, actually, in a positive way,” he said. “We’re pretty reclusive where we live and we kind of mind our own business. And then we’re on planes again and kind of reliving some stuff and having some incredible experiences like this. So, I think we’re trying to soak it all in. And I know there’s still quite a bit ahead that’s maybe not in my normal day of coffee and dropping kids off at school.”

As far as his induction speech goes, Rolen calls it a “work in progress.”

Rolen did jokingly feign nervousness when asked if the anticipation of the Induction Ceremony, with its large crowds, Hall of Famers in attendance, and national television audience was building up.  

“Are you trying to put more pressure on me? I’m getting sick to my stomach right now,” Rolen said with a smile. “We talked about the speech, and I know it’s a heavy lift. Delivering it, there’s going be a lot of people, but certainly spending time with your family and how you’re going to deliver it, I think, is very important. So, we’re going to go home, she’s going to play with the dog, it’s going to bark, and we’re going be fine. We’ll get there.”

The Class of 2023 – which also includes Fred McGriff via a Contemporary Baseball Era Committee vote in December – will be inducted on Sunday, July 23, in Cooperstown. Ford C. Frick Award winner Pat Hughes and BBWAA Career Excellence Award winner John Lowe will be honored during Induction Weekend at the Awards Presentation.

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


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