Which former Cardinals on the 2023 ballot will make the Hall of Fame?
After much anticipation, the time has finally come for voting in the next class of Hall of Famers, and this year’s ballot features 28 of the best names eligible for induction—four of them being former Cardinals. But are they good enough to be included with the best of the best? In this two-part series, we’ll go over each of the four nominees, cover the highlights of their careers, the invaluable contributions they made to the Cardinals, and their chances for induction this year.
How Hall of Fame Voting Works
But how does someone make It into the Hall of Fame? According to Baseball Reference, qualified members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote for a maximum of 10 eligible players on their given ballot. Any player that receives over 75% of the vote is inducted to the Hall of Fame, but any player that receives at least 5% of the vote will be eligible for the next year’s ballot, granted they haven’t already made 10 appearances. If any player fails to meet the threshold of 75% before their 10 years are up, they can still be inducted via the Veterans Committee, which is explained in detail in the link listed above.
Without further ado, let’s get into our candidates.
To kick things off, we have Scott Rolen, the only recurring Cardinal on the ballot, coming on his sixth year in the voting process. Unlike the other entries on this list, Rolen played a good chunk of his prime in St. Louis, but nonetheless started his career with the Philadelphia Phillies when he debuted in 1996.
Just like a certain Matt Holliday, another player who was brought in to be a critical piece in a Cardinals championship squad, Rolen also recorded his first hit at the expense of his future team. Nearing the end of the 1996 campaign, Rolen was at the threshold of losing his rookie status with his number of at-bats, but a fracture suffered by a hit by pitch effectively ended his season. Because of this, Rolen was able to enter 1997 still officially as a rookie and this allowed him to snag the honor of Rookie of the Year with a dominant performance at the plate.
1998 saw the then 23-year-old Rolen secure the first of his ultimate eight Gold Glove awards, his defensive prowess is a core aspect of what made him such a formidable opponent. Rolen continued to be a top contributor to the Phillies throughout the late nineties, but despite his efforts, the team nevertheless saw little success. Rolen was ready for a change of scenery, declining a massive extension from the Phillies in favor of a trade to his childhood club, the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals knew exactly what kind of player they had acquired, and quickly locked him up with an eight-year, $90 million contract extension. “…My happiest day would be if there's a game where 27 groundballs get to third base,'' former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "The way he plays that position, the way he runs the bases, the way he takes his at-bats, he is a complete player.''
Rolen hardly skipped a beat with his new team, earning himself a spot in the All-Star game for four consecutive years, and winning three gold gloves in that same time span. Rolen’s incredible performance culminated in 2004 when he slashed .314/.409/.598 with 34 home runs and a mind-boggling 124 RBIs. This stellar performance stacked alongside that of up-and-coming superstar Albert Pujols and fellow defensive wizard Jim Edmonds earned the trio a nickname that wasn’t to be taken lightly: “MV3.” Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds finished third, fourth and fifth respectively in that year’s MVP voting, and combined with a solid supporting cast, the Cardinals cruised to a 105-67 record, and not long after the National League Pennant. The Redbirds would fall face-first at the finish line, however, and the Red Sox made quick work of them with a four-game sweep.
Despite this, Rolen wouldn’t have to wait long for his ring. Missing the majority of the 2005 campaign, Rolen returned in 2006, putting on yet another stellar performance both on the field and at the dish to spur the Cardinals to become the second team in MLB history to reach double-digit World Series Championships.
This incredible achievement would soon be followed up by injury problems for the now aging Rolen, however, and he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays following the end of the 2007 season. Rolen managed to regain some of his past form in 2009, hitting .320 through his first 88 games, though he requested a trade “for personal reasons,” being cited as wanting to be closer to his hometown of Jasper, Indiana. The Blue Jays adhered to this wish and he was promptly dealt to the Cincinnati Reds.
2010 showcased a vintage Scott Rolen, seeing him crush a commendable 20 home runs, drive in 83 RBIs, and post an OPS of .854, helping Cincinnati seize their first division title since 1995. Notably, Rolen made his first All-Star appearance and win his first Gold Glove since the magical championship run of 2006. It would, however, be his last truly great season.
Rolen would play just two more seasons in the majors, in which he put up barely serviceable numbers, as what happens with little exception for every aging star. With the conclusion of the Reds’ 2012 campaign, so too ended the fantastic career of Scott Rolen.
Will Scott Rolen Make the Hall of Fame?
Making his sixth appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, the movement for Rolen’s induction into the best of the best has grown continually with each passing year, just narrowly missing the threshold of 75% of the vote in last year’s process. As of the writing of this article, Rolen is present on approximately 80% of submitted ballots, something unprecedented in his journey to Cooperstown.
Given that Rolen barely missed the 75% mark in the 2022 vote and considering he’s holding a much higher rate of votes in this year’s ballots, it may not be too much of a hot take to say that this year will be the year. Given his near-unprecedented performance in both hitting and fielding among third basemen, Rolen has certainly made a case for his induction. As always, time will tell.