Scott Rolen? The latest Baseball Hall of Famer? When it comes to universal recognition beyond those into weighted on-base average and bequeathed runners scored, it’s not as if he’s somebody of stature like, oh, say, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.
According to Baseball Reference, Bonds ($188,245,322) and Clemens ($150,601,000) pocketed more during their Major League Baseball careers than Rolen ($117,085,305), but a couple of things: Bonds (22 years) and Clemens (24 years) played longer than Rolen (17 years), and those guys with the household names had their otherwise glorious resumes stained forever by controversies involving performance-enhancing drugs.
Rolen didn’t. He also played third base better than Bonds, Clemens and everybody else in Major League Baseball history not named Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt or Nolan Arenado. Besides Rolen’s eight Gold Glove, he could hit, too. He’s one of just 35 players to finish his career with at least 2,000 hits, 300 homers and 500 doubles.
As a result, Baseball Reference placed Rolen’s 70.1 Wins Above Replacement in his career among the top 10 players at his position, and nine of them are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
You know, like Rolen — with an assist from me.
As a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, I put a check mark next to Rolen’s name on my ballot during the last two of his six years of eligibility for Cooperstown. You need 75% of the vote to gain entry, but Rolen wasn’t close for the longest time.
Then something happened.
Some of us began dissecting Rolen’s 17 years more closely, and we began with his 1997 National League Rookie of the Year season with the Philadelphia Phillies that progressed toward the Jasper, Indiana native helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the 2006 World Series. He was better than good between those years, and he remained that way during his stints with the Cincinnati Reds and the Toronto Blue Jays.
There were seven All-Star Game trips for Rolen, along with a Silver Slugger Award, and the Cardinals even inducted their former slugger — who hit .314 with 34 home runs and 124 RBI in 2004 — into their Hall of Fame that has many of the same members as the one in Cooperstown.
Rolen’s Baseball Hall of Fame vote total eventually rose enough to spend this time at 76.3%, which meant he won by five votes.
You’re welcome, Scott.
“You don’t think about this,” Rolen told MLB Network Tuesday after his induction became official. “You think about trying to do the best you can, play for your team and play the game as best you can, and there’s such a long road. I never thought that the Hall of Fame was going to be the answer.”
I didn’t either.
Not in the beginning, and I wasn’t alone.
Since 1966, when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America began its current way of voting, Rolen’s 10.2% during his first year of eligibility was the worst for anybody eventually elected.
The next closest was Duke Snider at 17%.
For some reason, Rolen kept looking better and better to those of us who voted, and it kept happening season after season.
Here’s why: Rolen was victimized during his early period of eligibility by heavyweights. His first year in 2018 featured Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Jim Thome, and they reached Cooperstown on that ballot. Among those who didn’t make it back then were future Hall of Famers Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Larry Walker and Fred McGriff.
Bonds and Clemens also were on the 2018 ballot, and they finished at 56.4% and 57.3%, respectively.
Yep, that was way higher than Rolen.
But you know the rest.