Scott Rolen will join Fred McGriff as the only members of the Class of 2023 at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The long-time National League infielder polled 76.3 per cent – just over the minimum 75 per cent needed for election – in the annual vote of the Baseball Writers Association of America, announced Tuesday at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Although he was the lone electee, four others finished above 50 per cent, putting them in stronger contention for Cooperstown berths next year.
Todd Helton finished with 72.2 per cent, 11 votes short, while Billy Wagner had 68 per cent, Andruw Jones had 58.1 per cent, and Gary Sheffield wound up with 55 per cent. All four were up significantly from their 2022 vote totals.
Helton’s percentage went up by 20 points over last year. Rolen, in his sixth year on the ballot, was the 18th third baseman elected. But he was also the first man to rebound from such a low initial vote percentage (10.2 per cent in his first year).
The Hall of Fame now has 342 elected members, 270 of them players.
Best known for his defense, Rolen won eight Gold Gloves and went to seven All-Star games during his 17-year career, divided primarily among the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Cincinnati Reds.
A total of 389 ballots were returned by the writers this year, including eight blank ones – usually a protest of the either the candidates or the exclusion of banned career hits leader Pete Rose. Rolen finished with 297 votes.
“There was never any point in my life that I thought I was going to be a Hall of Fame baseball player,” said the Indiana native in a media conference immediately after the televised voting results were announced.
“I had no thoughts and no expectations. I didn’t know much about the process.”
Rolen revealed that he visited Cooperstown as a 20-year-old and remembered seeing ice fishing on Lake Otsego. His next visit will be quite different, though he said he’d like to come up with his family to spend some time perusing the Hall of Fame.
Now a father of two, Rolen said his friends and family kept him posted on the upcoming Hall of Fame voting through various trackers that try to predict results.
“My phone was blowing up every day,” he laughed.
Wearing a hat that had “E5 Baseball” — error third baseman in baseball parlance — the humble electee said his learned how to play the game during his six-year stint in Philadelphia, where his mentor was former third baseman John Vuckovich.
“He taught me how to work,” said Rolen, who noted that the team was not successful during his time there.
“In St. Louis, the biggest thing was that they were seasoned professionals. I think I was ready for that.”
Swept by the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series, they came back to win in 2006 and run the table to a world championship with a team Rolen said was not as strong.
He played with Hall of Famers Jim Thome and Roy Halladay and played under Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.
Rolen became a third baseman in high school, where he started as a shortstop and pitcher.
A unanimous choice as National League Rookie of the Year in 1997, Rolen won a World Series ring with the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals. He finished with a .281 batting average, .854 OPS, 517 doubles, 43 triples, and 316 home runs.
At 245 pounds, Rolen was heavier than most third basemen. But he had good hands, great reflexes, and a strong throwing arm.
He will be enshrined with McGriff, elected in December by the Contemporary Players Eras Committee, on July 23 at the Clark Sports Center, about a mile from the Hall of Fame museum.
Another hard-hitting infielder, Jeff Kent, will now take his election case to the eras committee after using up the maximum 10 years with the BBWAA. After receiving 46.5 per cent of the vote, he could be included on the veterans committee ballot for the Class of 2026.
Carlos Beltran, in his first try, got 46.5 per cent. He will be among the 14 players from this year’s 28-man ballot will be eligible again next year. Players who failed to receive 5 per cent will not be retained.