NEW YORK (AP) — Scott Rolen sat with his son in the parking lot in front of Bloomington South High School in Indiana in 2018, waiting to coach elementary school students in basketball, and heard the results of his first Hall of Fame voting appearance on the radio of baseball.
“‘Dad, I think you’re getting in,'” Rolen recalled of 10-year-old Finn’s prediction.
Rolen received 10.2% of the vote, double the 5% minimum to stay on the ballot the following year, but well short of the 75% required for election.
“‘Did we win?'” Dad recalled his son asking. “I said, ‘Oh, we won. Yes, we won.’”
Rolen has come a long way in just a few short years and was elected to the Hall on his sixth try on Tuesday. The nimble third baseman earned baseball’s top honor with five votes remaining.
A seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner, Rolen was voted 76.3% on 297 of 389 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. As such, his modest debut of 10.2% was the lowest first-choice percentage by a later-chosen player; the previous mark was 17% in 1970 from Duke Snider, who was elected in 1980 with 86.5%.
“There was actually never a point in my life where I thought I would be a Hall of Fame baseball player,” Rolen said. “I never thought I’d be drafted. I never thought I would play in the big leagues. It will never be anything.”
Rolen will join Fred McGriff, who was chosen by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee last month when the class of 2023 was inaugurated at Cooperstown on July 23.
First baseman Todd Helton was second with 281 votes (72.2%) and reliever Billy Wagner was third with 265 (68.1%). Helton is up from 52% and can have five more appearances on the ballot, while Wagner is up from 51% and has two extra chances.
Rolen hit .281 with 316 homers and 1,287 RBIs for Philadelphia (1996-2002), St. Louis (2002-07), Toronto (2008-09) and Cincinnati (2009-12). He was unanimously voted NL Rookie of the Year in 1997, scoring a .421 when the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series.
His Hall vote has steadily increased to 17.2% in 2019, 35.3% in 2020, 52.9% in 2021, and 63.2% over the past year. He didn’t have to follow Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame ballot tracker this year.
“My phone was blown up by my son and my buddies about every day and everyone was telling me where it was,” Rolen said.
He was waiting at home in Bloomington on Tuesday — he finished runner-up at Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1993 — with his parents, wife, son, daughter, brother and his brother’s family.
“When the call came and I saw the Baseball Hall of Fame on my phone,” Rolen said, “you kind of look around like that actually just happened.”
They were all crying, and a few minutes later Finn asked him to go outside and throw a baseball.
“It’s 30 degrees here. It’s going to snow about 12 inches tomorrow and my son and I were in the driveway playing tag,” Rolen said.
Then they walked a short distance to his brother’s house to celebrate.
“I promised everyone great steaks no matter what, and I had to flip the tongs,” Rolen said. “I used to want to grill for everyone, but now my brother-in-law is grilling.”
Rolen played shortstop, second base, third, right field, center, left and pitcher at Jasper High School before settling at third in his sophomore or junior year. He will be the 18th third baseman at the hall, the lowest of any position.
“Most of the guys that went up to third probably came as shortstops,” said Chipper Jones, the 2018-elected former third baseman. “You grow out of the shortstop position as you get older and develop.”
Rolen’s five-vote lead was the 12th-smallest among the authors’ chosen players, and his voting percentage was the 10th-lowest.
Andruw Jones went from 41.1% to 58.1%, Gary Sheffield went from 40.6% to 55% in his penultimate appearance, and Jeff Kent went from 32.7% to 46.5% in his senior year. Kent may be considered by today’s Baseball Era Committee for years to come.
Players hit by drug bans again lagged behind. Alex Rodriguez was at 35.7%, up 34.3%, and Manny Ramirez was at 33.2%, up 28.9%.
Eight blank ballots were submitted by authors eligible to vote after 10 consecutive years of membership in the BBWAA.
Of 14 players who were on the ballot for the first time, only two reached the 5% threshold to be considered next year. Carlos Beltrán received 181 votes (46.5%), with his total likely influenced by his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal en route to the 2017 World Series title.
Relief pitcher Francisco Rodríguez received 42 votes (10.8%).
Next year’s top finishers include Adrian Beltré, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, José Bautista and Matt Holliday.
Rolen smiled widely on a Zoom call and spoke while wearing an “E5” hat, the unusual name of his foundation, which helps children and families struggling with illness, hardship or special needs.
“A little bit of tightness in my chest all day,” he said. “It was, wow, that’s real.”
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