Scott Rolen just won election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Playing third for the Phillies and Cardinals (with end of career stints with the Blue Jays and Reds), he made seven All Star teams and won eight Gold Glove awards for his fielding excellence over his seventeen seasons. He earned a World Series title with the Cardinals in 2006, but other than being named the NL Rookie of the Year in 1997, there’s not much else in the way of trophies.
His career numbers are unremarkable. A .281 batting average and 316 home runs is good, but not really exceptional. And you won’t find him leading the league in any offensive stats over the course of his career.
So what makes him a Hall of Famer?
Those eight Gold Glove awards are fourth all time for third basemen. Add that to his solid offense, and he comes in with a career Wins Above Replacement of 70.1 – which compares well with the average of 68.3 for the fifteen third basemen already in Cooperstown.
Compared to other positions, third base isn’t a position where defense can really stand out. You don’t see much of the range and “flash” of a shortstop or second baseman; nor does the speed and grace of an outfielder come to the fore. On tough plays at third, a fan’s attention quickly shifts to the first baseman, to see if the out is made. You have to pay attention to the “Hot Corner” to find exceptional glovework.
And Rolen had it in spades.
More than good enough for the bronze plaque in Cooperstown.
“I told him once, my happiest day would be if there’s a game where 27 ground balls get to third base. The way he plays that position, the way he runs the bases, the way he takes his at-bats, he is a complete player.” – Manager Tony LaRussa