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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: February 1, 2023 12:46 pm PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

Congratulations Scott Rolen.

Congratulations Baseball Hall of Fame.

Congratulations BBWAA.

Yes, some people are upset about who got into Cooperstown in 2023 while others are upset about who did not make the HOF cut.

Rolen will join Fred McGriff for the July induction ceremony in the rolling hills of Cooperstown. I voted for Rolen so I feel good about that. Rolen received five more votes than the 292 needed to be elected.

The Contemporary Era Committee elected McGriff. I voted for McGriff for years, so I’m glad he will join Rolen in Cooperstown. I enjoyed my interactions with both players and appreciated their talents, but I know Crime Dog a lot better than I know Rolen and McGriff is a Hall of Fame person as well as player – and from everything I’ve heard about Scott Rolen, he is the same type of person, so young fans have two wonderful new Hall of Fame members to admire.

That’s a win-win for the Hall of Fame and for baseball.

As for those upset with the selections or non-selections, that’s a good thing, too. People care. There is a lot of emotion, a lot of heart that goes into the Baseball Writers Association of America ballots, and a lot of homework and I commend all of that here at Baseball or Bust.

The HOF is a business and needs to attract as many fans as it can. I have been up there countless times, including this past August; and I can honestly say I never saw fans exit the Hall of Fame saying, “Well, THAT sucked.’’

A friend asked on Wednesday if I was upset that the Hall of Fame is being watered down by some of the latest inductees, specifically mentioning Scott Rolen.

I’m not.

And it’s not just because I voted for Rolen and seven other players who did not make it into the Hall of Fame. I’m happy that we have a voting system that works in America with this HOF balloting that was verified by Ernst & Young. And as for those thinking the Hall of Fame is getting watered down, well it’s been getting watered down ever since that first Hall of Fame class was announced on Feb. 2, 1936. That unique class featured Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner.

After those stars of stars, there was bound to be a drop-off. That’s just the way it goes, and here we are 87 years later.

I was especially happy the writers gave a third baseman his Hall of Fame due. That is an under recognized position at the Hall of Fame. Looking back into the archives, a third baseman wasn’t elected until 1945 when Jimmy Collins got into the HOF. Every other position was already selected. I think it’s important to look at the inscription on James Collins’ plaque to put things in perspective. Here it is:

“Considered by many the game’s greatest third baseman. He revolutionized style of play at that bag. Led Boston Red Sox to first World Championship in 1903. A consistent batter, his defensive play thrilled fans of both Major Leagues.’’

Collins was also the Red Sox manager and a tremendous negotiator and businessman.

And how about this? In his SABR bio it notes that in 1897, in late September, Collins played “with a leech on his face to heal a swollen eye, and led the team to victory in the series.’’

That’s one tough third baseman.

Collins played for the Boston Braves (1895-1900), Louisville Colonels (1895), Boston Red Sox (1901-1907), and Philadelphia Athletics (1907-1908).

Back in 1945 it took the Old Timers Committee to recognize his third base defense and get Jimmy Collins into the Hall of Fame. I thank them for it and I love the fact that third base was a “bag’’ back then (wait until you get a load of the new bigger bases, people, but I digress).

Half-length portrait of Jimmy Collins, third baseman and manager for the Boston American League team, standing by grandstand concourse netting at South Side Park, Chicago, IL, 1903. Leech not pictured. (Photo by Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Everybody is into comparative numbers these days, so let me just throw this at you. The first third baseman elected to the Hall of Fame played 14 years, 1,725 games, and batted .294 with 1,999 hits. Surprised Mr. Collins did not hang around to get one more hit. Collins posted a .343 on-base percentage, a .409 slugging percentage, a .752 OPS, 65 Dead Ball Era home runs, and stole 194 bases.

Scott Rolen played 17 years, 2,038 games, and batted .281 with 2,077 hits. Rolen posted a .364 on-base percentage, a .490 slugging percentage, an .855 OPS, 316 home runs, and stole 118 bases. He won eight Gold Gloves.

Much different eras, I get it, but Rolen’s offensive numbers stand up with or are better than the first third baseman to make the Hall of Fame. That’s worth noting – and shows the numbers game can be played any way you want it to be played.

Here is what people are forgetting, and writers sometimes forget this too.

The Hall of Fame is for the fans.

It’s a place to go to love the game in the quaintest of villages and think back to the players you once saw and see those memories come to life again.

Why would I be upset that Phillies fans and Cardinals fans can now go to Cooperstown and take their kids and show them and tell them all about Scott Rolen. The first seven years of his career Rolen starred for the Phillies, the next six for the Cardinals.

Generations march on, players march on, and so do fans. Different generations of fans need some love too and there is nothing wrong with these players being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I did not agree with the veterans’ committee selection of Harold Baines a few years ago, but I’m sure a lot of White Sox fans have proudly gone to the Hall of Fame and said to their kids that they loved watching Harold Baines play.

It’s all part of the experience.

The HOF is a business and needs to attract as many fans as it can. I have been up there countless times, including this past August; and I can honestly say I never saw fans exit the Hall of Fame saying, “Well, THAT sucked.’’

Scott Rolen in the field

Scott Rolen #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies prepares for a ground ball during a baseball game against the Houston Astros on May 19, 1997 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rolen was the only player on the writers ballot to be inducted into the HoF class of 2023. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

They all come out with a smile and have that look in their eyes of good memories coming alive again. It’s the happiest baseball place on earth and there is nothing wrong with that – so whoever makes the Hall of Fame, more power to them.

I would love to see people in general care about their local school board elections as much as they get worked up over the Hall of Fame election every year. I know when I posted My HOF Ballot for ’23 it drew a lot of response – and again, that’s a good thing. I don’t really care what you think about my vote because as I say every year, this is my vote, not yours. Go get a job where you cover baseball for at least 10 years and then maybe you can vote too.

I certainly don’t care about how other writers voted. It’s their vote, they can vote any way they want to vote, and even if they send in a blank ballot, that’s their prerogative. Again, I want to make this as clear as possible, don’t tell me how to vote. Now if you want to give me information on a player that might open my eyes about that player, I’m all for it. Through the years I have changed my thoughts on certain players and I can be sure that I will change some thoughts in the future.

This is no lockstep voting. This is individual freedom voting. Deal with it.

A baseball man I deeply respect, Larry Bowa, said it perfectly about Rolen. “Congratulations to Scott Rolen on his induction into the class of 2023 @MLB HOF. It was an honor to manage him with the Phillies. One of the best of his generation to play the game. Well deserved!’’

I actually was hoping three of the eight players I voted for would be inducted this year: Rolen, Todd Helton, and Billy Wagner. Clearly Helton and Wagner are on the upswing and again, this is how the system works. It does not really matter when you make the Hall of Fame, you are a Hall of Famer and it’s that simple.

Don’t overthink the Todd Helton candidacy; he can’t be penalized for playing in Colorado — and to steal some equipment from another sport, don’t move the goal posts on Helton. He played 17 years and batted .316 with a .417 on base percentage and .539 slugging percentage and a .953 OPS. He also was a three-time Gold Glover and had six seasons with 30 or more home runs.

Todd Helton #17 of the Colorado Rockies flashes a smile in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Coors Field on September 19, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

As for home/away splits: Helton hit .345 in Colorado and .287 on the road, and that is still six points higher than Scott Rolen’s overall average, for what it’s worth. Helton blasted 227 home runs at home and 142 on the road and posted a .607 slugging percentage at home and .469 on the road. Throughout baseball history other players have hit well in favorable home parks; it’s part of the game and you can’t hold that against the player. I give Helton credit for spending his entire career in Colorado and being faithful to Rockies fans, much like Tony Gwynn loved playing in San Diego and was faithful to Padres fans in an era in which he could have jumped to another team for more money.

All that gets back to my earlier point: The Hall of Fame is for the fans, and Padres fans love seeing Tony Gwynn in the Hall and Rockies fans would love seeing Helton in the Hall and would be making trips to Cooperstown for that reason. There is nothing wrong with bringing a little joy to a fan base, especially the devoted fan base the Rockies have, a fan base that has not been rewarded with winning by that organization.

As for Billy Wagner, there are two numbers that bear repeating. Wagner’s 11.92 K-per nine innings and .187 opponent batting average. In addition, his 422 saves are sixth all time. He could have hung around baseball longer than his 903 innings, but he wanted to be home for his family. That’s a Hall of Fame trait.

I think Andruw Jones will make it too because of his superior gifts and gliding defensive ability in centerfield.

Helton received 72.2 percent of the 75 percent needed for induction. Wagner got 68.1 percent while Jones was at 58.1 percent.

Jeff Kent (46.5 percent) now belongs to the Contemporary Era Baseball committee. He batted .290 lifetime and is the all-time leader in home runs for a second baseman with 354 of his 377 home runs coming while playing second base.

Another third baseman to consider for the veterans’ committee is Bill Madlock, winner of four batting titles and owner of a lifetime .305 average. There also is the case to be made for Al Oliver and his .303 average and 2,368 hits.

There are 340 Hall of Fame plaques in the Plaque Gallery and Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch will unveil two more on July 23rd: Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen. Fans can spend hours reading those plaques.  As I have said before attending so many Hall of Fame induction ceremonies: There is nothing cooler than being in the Plaque Gallery on Saturday night at the cocktail party and seeing Hall of Famers standing next to their plaques. The pride in their face next to their bronze baseball youth says it all.

Rolen becomes just the 18th third baseman selected. He should stop at Jimmy Collins’ plaque to pay his respects and thank Collins for breaking the third base ice way back in 1945. Rolen is one of only four third basemen with at least 300 home runs, 100 stolen bases, and 500 doubles; the others being Adrian Beltre, George Brett, and Chipper Jones.

After being elected Rolen said something that should be texted to every player, and they should read it before they work on their home run celebration or take another 45 minutes of batting practice: “I took pride in defense and base-running,’’ Rolen said. “I thought those are two aspects that I could really contribute on a daily basis on the field.’’

Defense and base-running are two aspects of the game the Nerds never seem to understand because they have had to change the rules (no shift, bigger bases, only two mound disengagements per batter) for next season.

Play the complete game and you might be rewarded with a Hall of Fame plaque some day.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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