COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Scott Rolen is an old-school baseball guy, but he’s grateful for the analytics of today’s game. They may have helped him get voted into the Hall of Fame.
Rolen, making it on his sixth try, and Fred McGriff, elected unanimously by the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee, will be inducted Sunday into the Hall of Fame.
“I learned a lot more about the process the last two years. I’m not into all the metrics and the numbers, advanced stats and stuff, but apparently, they helped me, so I love them,” Rolen joked Saturday.
Rolen, a seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner, was selected on 297 of 389 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — or 76.3%. In his first year of eligibility, Rolen received just 10.2%, the lowest first-ballot percentage of a player later elected. His Hall vote rose steadily. It wasn’t until the past year that Rolen felt he had a great shot to get in. Along with that realization came some stress.
“The first five years there wasn’t much pressure at all,” Rolen said. “The first year we were trying to get to a certain number (to stay on the ballot). The last year, yeah, I knew there was a chance with this one. This last one caught up to me when I thought it would be a real thing. The chest gets a little tight and then you hear the news.”
Rolen batted .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 a unanimous pick as the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year and hit .314 in 2006, when the Cardinals won the World Series.
His stint with the Phillies ended on a sour note, but with time has come appreciation for the time he spent in Philly.
“I feel like I always cherished my time in Philadelphia,” Rolen said. “I still have lifelong friends from Philadelphia. I truly believe I learned to play the game there. … There’s a toughness instilled in you to play the game the right way and to play hard. That carried through my entire career.”
A multisport athlete who was offered a basketball scholarship at Georgia, 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 in the Hall, the fewest of any position.
“He was a phenomenal, amazing athlete,” said Terry Gobert, his coach at Jasper High who was on hand for the weekend’s festivities. “He was strong in everything, all aspects of the game. His glove put him over the top, but there was not one area in which he didn’t excel.”
McGriff, the lanky first baseman known as Crime Dog, hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.
His 493 home runs were tied for tenth in major league history among left-handed hitters when he retired, but McGriff wondered what his numbers would have looked like had he played his entire career with the New York Yankees, the team that drafted him.
“That little, short porch in right field? That would’ve been a beautiful thing for me,” McGriff said. “And the stadium they have now? That is a real bandbox they have now. That place is unbelievable.”
But he has no regrets, especially concerning his time with Atlanta.
“My time with the Braves was awesome. At the time we didn’t have the Tampa Bay Rays, Florida Marlins,” McGriff said. “Atlanta was closest to my home (in Florida). For my parents to have a better opportunity to see me play was great for me.
“And of course, winning.”
The careers of McGriff and Rolen overlapped, and they spoke glowingly of each other.
“I was always enamored of him; just how strong he was. How he flew the bat head,” Rolen said. “I always looked up to Fred and his career for sure.”
“He played the game the right way,” McGriff countered. “If you hit the ball to third base you were going to be out. He was going to make all the plays and he came up with big hits. He was a professional all the way and played the game the way it should be played.”
Two others honored Saturday were Pat Hughes, winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and John Lowe, who received the BBWAA Career Excellence Award.