Scott Rolen sat with his son in the parking lot outside Indiana’s Bloomington South High School in 2018, waiting to coach grade schoolers in basketball and listening on the radio for results of his first appearance on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot.
“`Dad, I think you’re getting in,’” Rolen recalled 10-year-old Finn predicting.
Rolen received 10.2% of the vote, double the 5% minimum to remain on the ballot the following year but far short of the 75% needed for election.
“`Did we win?‘” dad remembered his son asking. “I said, `Oh, we won. Yes, we won.’”
Rolen came a long way in a few short years and was elected to the Hall on his sixth try Tuesday, the slick-fielding third baseman achieving baseball’s highest honor with five votes to spare.
A seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner, Rolen was picked on 297 of 389 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for 76.3%. That made his modest 10.2% debut the lowest first-ballot percentage of a player later elected; the previous mark had been 17% in 1970 by Duke Snider, who was voted in with 86.5% in 1980.
“There was actually never a point in my life that I thought I was going to be a Hall of Fame baseball player,” Rolen said. “Never did I think I was going to get drafted. Never did I think I was going to play in the major leagues. Never going to be whatever.”
Rolen will join Fred McGriff, elected last month by the contemporary baseball era committee, as the Class of 2023 inducted July 23 in Cooperstown.
First baseman Todd Helton was second with 281 votes (72.2%) and reliever Billy Wagner third with 265 (68.1%). Helton moved up from 52% and can have five more appearances on the ballot, while Wagner rose from 51% and has two additional chances.
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 .421 as the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series.
His Hall vote rose steadily to 17.2% in 2019, 35.3% in 2020, 52.9% in 2021 and 63.2% last year. He didn’t need to follow Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker this year.
“My phone would blow up about every day from my son and my buddies and everybody telling me where it was,” Rolen said.
He waited Tuesday at home in Bloomington — he was runner-up for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1993 — with his parents, wife, son, daughter, brother and his brother’s family.