The official 2023 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released this past week. Under consideration by the voters will be 28 players, 14 newcomers to the ballot as well as 14 holdovers from last year.
Those 14 newcomers have each been formally retired from Major League Baseball as players for five years. The list includes starting pitchers Bronson Arroyo, Matt Cain, R.A. Dickey, John Lackey, and Jered Weaver and relievers Francisco Rodriguez and Huston Street.
Those returning to the ballot each received at least five percent of the vote a year ago. They are Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Mark Buehrle, Todd Helton, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Torii Hunter, Billy Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, Omar Vizquel, and Bobby Abreu.
Initial industry speculation has Beltran and ‘KRod’ as the newcomers who will receive the most support from voters. However, neither is likely to reach the 75% threshold needed to be enshrined at Cooperstown.
Among the holdovers, Rolen reached the 63.2% mark in what was his sixth year on the ballot. He was the highest vote-getter a year ago who is returning. Only David Ortiz, who received 77.9% support, was elected from last year’s candidates. Both Barry Bonds (66%) and Roger Clemens (65.2%) fell short in their 10th and final opportunity. Each was plagued by allegations of using performance enhancing drugs during their careers.
Rolen played the prime years of his career during what has become known as the PED or Steroid Era in baseball. But he was never linked to using any such substances. One of my all-time favorite players, it is my belief that Scott Rolen deserves a minimum of that extra 11.8 % support needed this time around to be rewarded with a plaque with his name and face on it.
The second-round choice of the Philadelphia Phillies at 46th overall in the 1993 MLB Draft out of high school in Indiana, Rolen made his big-league debut on August 1, 1996, with the Phillies. Immediately installed as the starting third baseman, Rolen saw his first year cut short by a fractured forearm when he was hit by a pitch in early September.
Returning in 1997, Rolen’s first full season saw him become the unanimous choice in voting for National League Rookie of the Year. At age 22, he slashed .283/.377/.469 with 21 home runs, 92 RBIs, 93 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases.
The following year, Rolen became the best third baseman in baseball. He slashed .290/.391/.532 with 31 homers, 110 RBIs, 120 runs, and 14 steals. He was also dynamic defensively at the ‘hot corner’, earning the first of what would become eight career Gold Glove Awards.
Rolen’s outstanding play in Philly would continue for another three-and-a-half years. He would add his first All-Star Game appearance, a Silver Slugger Award, and three more Gold Gloves to his ledger during that period.
With a resume like that, you would expect that Rolen would remain a Phillie for a long time. But it wasn’t to be. Fed up with what he felt was unwarranted criticism by management of his play as well as the club’s inability or unwillingness to add the talent to become a consistent winner, he refused to negotiate a contract extension. The situation would ultimately lead to divorce.
After nearly trading him to Baltimore and Cincinnati, Rolen was finally dealt to the Saint Louis Cardinals at the 2002 trade deadline with pitcher Doug Nickle in exchange for infielder Placido Polanco and pitchers Mike Timlin and Bud Smith. On his way out the door, Rolen proclaimed that he was happy to be headed to “baseball heaven” in Saint Louis. Phillies fans took it as an insult, and many have still never forgiven him for the perceived slight.
In Saint Louis, Rolen became a perennial All-Star. He appeared in the Midsummer Classic each year from 2003-06, winning Gold Gloves in three of those four seasons. He finished fourth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting for a 2004 campaign in which he slashed .314/.409/.598 with career highs of 34 homers, 124 RBIs, and 109 runs scored.
The Cardinals captured three straight NL Central Division crowns from 2004-06 and capped that magnificent run by winning the 2006 World Series in five games over the Detroit Tigers. Rolen starred in the Fall Classic, batting .421 while leading the club in hits and runs.
In January 2008, headed into his age 33 season, Rolen was traded by the Cardinals to the Toronto Blue Jays for another veteran third sacker, Troy Glaus. Two years younger, Glaus would have one more final strong season with Saint Louis in 2008.
After a solid year-and-a-half with the Jays, Rolen once again was dealt, swapped to the Cincinnati Reds at the 2009 trade deadline for young third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and two others. Rolen would help the Reds win NL Central titles in both 2010 and 2012, making the NL All-Star team in both 2010 and 2011 and winning a final Gold Glove Award in 2010.
Over his career, Rolen hit .281 with a .364 on-base percentage. He blasted 316 home runs, drilled 517 doubles, and produced 1,287 RBIs while scoring 1,211 runs and stealing 118 bases. He won eight Gold Glove Awards at third base. Only Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, and now Nolan Arenado have won more at the hot corner. He was also a seven-time All-Star.
His JAWS number for Hall of Fame worthiness shows Rolen at 56.9, which is 10th all-time among all third basemen who have ever played the game. Eight of the nine ahead of him are already enshrined, and the ninth, Adrian Beltre, will surely join them at Cooperstown when eligible in 2024.
Rolen has a career bWAR of 70.1, which is higher than Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Edgar Martinez, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Andre Dawson, and other position players of recent decades.
Rolen and Beltre were the greatest third basemen of their generation, spanning the late-1990’s through early-2010’s. Both men deserve enshrinement with a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Beltre will get his in 2024. Scott Rolen should enter this time around, enjoying a ceremony in summer of 2023.
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