Scott Rolen, a Slick-Fielding Third Baseman, Makes the Hall of Fame
Scott Rolen played nearly 18,000 innings in the field during his 17-season career, and every one of them was spent at third base. A star infielder, known as much for his glove and his range as he was for his powerful bat, Rolen was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday when the results of the annual writers’ ballot were announced.
Rolen, in his sixth year of eligibility, was named on 297 of 389 ballots, giving him 76.3 percent in an election in which 75 percent is required to be inducted.
Todd Helton, the longtime Colorado Rockies first baseman, finished second, at 72.2 percent, and Billy Wagner, a star closer for several clubs, was third with 68.1 percent.
Carlos Beltrán, an outfielder for the Mets and the Yankees who was the most prominent of this year’s first-time finalists, was named on 46.5 percent of ballots. The result was somewhat disappointing for the former all-around star, and it was perhaps influenced by his connection to the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
As a result of Tuesday’s election, Rolen will join Fred McGriff, a power-hitting first baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, the Atlanta Braves and four other teams, at the Hall’s annual induction ceremony in Cooperstown, NY, this summer. McGriff, who fell off the writers’ ballot after his 10th try in 2019, was a unanimous selection by the Hall’s Contemporary Baseball Era committee, which considers the cases of players who failed to gain election by the writers.
For Rolen, the election came after a steady climb in his voting totals over the years. He was named on only 10.2 percent of ballots in 2018, his first year of eligibility, but saw that percentage increase each year. Last year, he made it up to 63.2 percent and was elected this year when he received an additional 48 votes from last year’s total.
Having spent nearly his entire career in the National League, Rolen was a third baseman in the truest sense. He never appeared at any other position, and he never played a game at designated hitter, with his only appearances coming as a third baseman or pinch hitter. The defensive commitment was warranted as Rolen finished his career with eight Gold Glove awards and 21.2 defensive wins above replacement, by Baseball Reference’s formulation.
Rolen was also a star with his bat, hitting .281 for his career with 316 home runs and 1,287 RBI. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title in 2006 by batting .421 in a five-game series against the Detroit Tigers.
While Helton had undoubtedly hoped to join Rolen and McGriff on the stage in Cooperstown, his disappointment on Tuesday could be tempered by the huge leap he took in votes. The rare star who spent his entire career with one team, Helton hit .3724 in 2000 — the fifth highest single-season batting average since 1960 — and helped lead his team to the 2007 World Series. Some have questioned, however, the wide gap between his home numbers at Coors Field and what he was able to do on the road. He received 16.5 percent of the vote in 2019, his first year eligible and worked up to 52 percent last year. With 76 more votes this year, he has gone from a tossup candidate to one who should be expected to be elected in future years.
Wagner, a top closer for the Houston Astros, the Mets and three other teams, also got fairly close this year, and could eventually become the ninth reliever elected to Cooperstown. With 422 saves and a 2.31 career ERA, Wagner was a consistently dominant force but faces the same obstacles as other relievers who have to contend with the sentiment that their role is not as valuable as a top starting pitcher’s.
For Beltrán, who at his peak was one of the game’s finest blends of power, speed and defense, a failure to be elected this year does not doom his future prospects. The sign-stealing scandal will linger for years to come, but he has less ground to make up than players with strong connections to steroids, such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, each of whom received less than 40 percent of the vote. in their first year of eligibility.
In that same vein, holdover candidates with established connections to performance-enhancing drugs continued to struggle in this year’s vote. Alex Rodriguez, who led all finalists with 117.6 career wins above replacement and won the AL’s Most Valuable Player Award three times, was named on only 35.7 percent of ballots. Manny Ramirez, a 12-time All-Star who hit 555 home runs, got 33.2 percent.
Things will not get any easier for finalists next year, as the ballot will add a decorated group of first-time candidates that includes Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley and David Wright.