NEW YORK — 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.
“When the phone call came and I saw baseball Hall of Fame on my phone,” Rolen said, “you kind of look around, like, that actually did just happen.”
They all cried, and a few minutes later Finn asked him to go out and toss 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 catch,” Rolen said.
Then they walked a short distance to his brother’s house to celebrate.
“I promised everybody great steaks no matter what, and I had to turn the tongs over,” Rolen said. “I was normally going to grill for everybody but now my brother-in-law’s 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 in the Hall, the fewest of any position.
“Most of the guys who moved to third probably came up as shortstops,” said Chipper Jones, the previous third baseman elected, in 2018. ”You kind of outgrow the shortstop position as you get older and develop more.”
Rolen’s five-vote margin tied for the 12th-smallest among players elected by the writers and his vote percentage was the 10th lowest.
Andruw Jones moved from 41.1% to 58.1%, Gary Sheffield from 40.6% to 55% in his next-to-last possible appearance and Jeff Kent from 32.7% to 46.5% in his final year. Kent can be considered by the contemporary baseball era committee in future years.
Players tainted by drug suspensions again lagged. Alex Rodriguez was at 35.7%, up from 34.3%, and Manny Ramirez at 33.2%, up from 28.9%.
Eight blank ballots were submitted by writers, eligible to vote after 10 consecutive years of membership in the BBWAA.
Among 14 players appearing on the ballot for the first time, just two reached the 5% threshold to remain under consideration next year. Carlos Beltrán received 181 votes (46.5%), his total likely impacted by his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal en route to the 2017 World Series title.
Relief pitcher Francisco Rodríguez got 42 votes (10.8%).
Next year’s first-time eligibles include Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer, Chase Utley, David Wright, José Bautista and Matt Holliday.
Rolen smiled widely on a Zoom call, speaking while wearing an “E5” cap, the out-of-character name of his foundation that assists children and families dealing with illness, hardship or special needs.
“A little tightness in the chest all day,” he said. “It was, wow, this is real.”
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