The changes that come in time can be a beautiful thing.
There was a time, for example, when former Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen did not much care if he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, even though it is the ultimate honor a player can receive.
“Good Lord, I don’t want to downplay Cooperstown, but I didn’t grow up wanting to be a Hall of Famer,” Rolen said Friday during a lengthy telephone interview from his home in Bloomington, Ind.
“Like a lot of other kids, I grew up wanting to play in the major leagues, and it was a struggle and a battle just to have a career in the major leagues, and I got to experience a lot of great things and meet a lot of great people. And I’ve had a back surgery, four shoulder surgeries, and six concussions, and I don’t regret any of it.”
There were also two World Series trips, including a 2006 title with the St. Louis Cardinals, a National League rookie of the year award with the Phillies in 1997, eight Gold Gloves, and seven All-Star Game appearances along the way. But it took Rolen’s wide-eyed son Finn to make him truly aware of what it would mean to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“All of a sudden I’m on the ballot for the first time [in 2018] and I’m coaching his basketball team and he must be 10 and he has a practice at 6:30,” Rolen said. “The Hall of Fame show comes on around 6 and as we’re leaving the house he says to me, ‘Dad, I think you’re going to make it.’ I said, ‘Hey, when we left the house, did you notice any TV crews anywhere?’ He says, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I didn’t either. I don’t think I’m going to make it.’”
The curious 10-year-old wanted to know if that meant his father did not have a chance to ever make it to Cooperstown.
“I explained to him that I needed 5% of the vote to stay on the ballot,” Rolen said. “He says, ‘Well what do you need to get in?’ I tell him I need 75% to get in but only 5% to still have a chance. He says, ‘Well, are we after 75% or 5%?’ I said, ‘We’re after 5%.’
“So now they start talking about Chipper [Jones] and Jim Thome and going through the guys who made it and, finally, about 20 minutes in they say, ‘And Scott Rolen stays on the ballot with 10.2 % of the vote.’”
Finn Rolen responded to that news with a full fist pump and a high-five for his father before the two of them walked into basketball practice together.
“That’s the beauty of this,” Rolen said. “I get to see it from his eyes and my daughter Raine’s eyes, too. The second year was kind of the same thing, with Finn asking me what we need to do and I said, ‘We need to go north and not south.’”
Rolen got 17.2 % of the vote in 2019 and another heart-melting reaction from Finn. His candidacy continued to gain steam in his third year on the ballot as he received 35.3 % of the vote. The next round of results will be revealed Jan. 26, and since there are no sure-thing, first-ballot candidates, it seems likely that support for the second greatest third baseman in Phillies history will continue to climb.
In addition to seeing his Hall of Fame candidacy through his children’s eyes, Rolen also understands how much his induction would mean to his parents, Ed and Linda. They are now in their late 70s and they have been his biggest fans and supporters from the day he was born.
“I saw what me getting into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame meant to them,” Rolen said. “They were just beaming, so I can only imagine what it would mean to them for me to get into the Hall of Fame, and I also know what it would mean to me for my mom and dad. I don’t know how you could raise three kids any better than they did.”
The Phillies also want to see Rolen get into the Hall of Fame even though the separation between the third baseman and the ballclub nearly two decades ago was a bitter one. The Phillies’ media relations department recently detailed Rolen’s Hall of Fame case, and it’s a good one.
If you like old-school stats, Rolen’s career .490 slugging percentage is fourth all-time among third basemen, and his 316 home runs, .855 OPS, and 876 extra-base hits rank sixth. All the players in the top 10 in those four categories are already in the Hall of Fame.
“I’ve thanked the Phillies multiple times for putting out that case and for helping me try to advance in this process,” Rolen said. “There are a lot of abbreviations and stats that I have never seen in my entire life, but I think I’m happy about them. They look good. I see comparisons to other guys with the same strange symbols and numbers next to them, and when I look at the names around my name, I say, ‘Cool.’ I think it looks positive.”
It is positive, and if voters are on the fence, they should be swayed by the fact that Rolen played the hot corner the same way Brian Dawkins and Troy Polamalu played safety. And for that, he mostly thanks the late John Vukovich, who was his defensive muse with the Phillies.
“Vuke became my defensive life,” Rolen said. “He taught me to field. I brought effort to him and the ability to field a ground ball, but he changed my mentality of it. He taught me how to work. He was particular and he was demanding and we had a father-son relationship and we’d get on each other and challenge each other, and because of him my defensive approach went to an offensive approach. I was always going to play the ball. It wasn’t going to play me.”
As Rolen previously mentioned, he was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2019 and it was a special event for him and his family. The Cardinals, as the team with the second-most World Series titles in baseball history, have an incredible tradition.
The Phillies, of course, have only two World Series titles and more losses than any team in history, and Rolen endured his fair share of those, which helped lead to his messy divorce from the team. Could he have handled the breakup better? Sure. Could the Phillies have done some things differently? Absolutely, and David Montgomery admitted as much to me before his death.
But time and age should have healed all those wounds by now. Rolen belongs on the Wall of Fame and needs to be welcomed back to Philadelphia without any animosity.
“We could write a book about that segment of my career, but the relationships I had in Philadelphia are for a lifetime,” he said. “I’m a Philadelphia Phillie. That’s where I started my career. Yes, I’m also a St. Louis Cardinal and a Toronto Blue Jay and a Cincinnati Red. They are all meaningful parts of my life.
“In St. Louis, my life was changing and I was in a spot where we had a five or six-year run in the playoffs and some really, really good teams at a time when I was growing into my prime. But it was because I learned to do so many things with the Phillies.
“I was drafted by the Phillies and I don’t take that for granted. Starting in Philadelphia was the greatest thing for my career without question for a bunch of reasons. The passion of the fans kept you in line as a competitor on a daily basis as far as what was expected effort-wise and energy-wise.”
Time will tell if the demanding start of Scott Rolen’s big-league journey in Philadelphia helps lead one day to the ultimate baseball honor in Cooperstown.
Finn Rolen will be watching and hopefully one day he can also make a trip to Philadelphia to see his father be placed on the Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. It would be another beautiful thing that came courtesy of time.