Scott Rolen was one of the best defensive third basemen of all time, moving with dexterity and quickness shocking for someone so large. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, he seemed to attack ground balls like a middle linebacker closing on a running back, beating them to the holes, intercepting them, turning them into outs.
Rolen won eight Gold Glove Awards -- only Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt won more -- and he also was among the better hitters at his position, blasting 316 homers and compiling 2,077 hits and 1,211 runs. There will be a day he will make a speech at Cooperstown.
But a reasonable fear is that Rolen, like others in recent seasons, won't have a chance to be fairly assessed in the polling of voters. Rather, he will be collateral damage in the Hall's seeming campaign to prevent the most prominent steroid-era candidates, like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, from being inducted.
A few years ago, the Hall of Fame altered its voting rules, reducing the number of years that a player could be eligible for election by the Baseball Writers Association from 15 to 10 years. At the time, that change was a mortal blow to the chances of Mark McGwire ever being elected into the Hall, because he had already burned through most of his 10 years of eligibility, and now, Clemens and Bonds each have only five more years to be considered.
At the same time that rule was rewritten, the Hall turned aside a request from the writers to consider increasing its ballot beyond the 10-player limit, because of how the list of candidates was stacking up like cars at a cash-only toll both. Players like McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and others were lingering on the ballot year to year, and for a lot of writers -- in some years, more than 50 percent -- that meant there were far more worthy candidates than the 10-player limit.
This is why I stopped voting a few years ago, because I did not think I could fairly apply the Hall of Fame's own rules. In 2014, I left Tim Raines, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Jeff Kent off my ballot despite my own belief that they were all worthy for the Hall. I voted for Bonds, Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, McGwire and others -- and upon reflection, I realized that I actually hurt the chances of Raines, Mussina, Schilling, et al. By submitting a ballot without their names, I reduced the percentage of votes they received, pushing them away from the 75 percent necessary for election.
A number of writers have called attention to this problem and noted that players like Schilling, Mussina, etc. have been treated unfairly in the voting process. Yet the Hall has remained intractable, bypassing the opportunity to shape a system in which the accomplishments of all players like Rolen are measured within an individual context; instead, some writers have had to try to ration votes to the broad field of candidates through a complicated maze, and some players have been damaged. Kenny Lofton scored 1,528 runs in his career, swiped 622 bases in 782 attempts and reached base about 3,400 times -- and in 2013, his only year on the ballot, he mustered just 3.2 percent of the vote, short of the 5 percent necessary to remain in consideration.
I don't know if Lofton is a Hall of Famer, but the museum has honored players with comparable or even lesser accomplishments than Lofton because they lingered on the ballot, and over time, full consideration was given to their careers. I'd bet the family farm back in Vermont that if Lofton had been a pre-steroid-era candidate, he would've received at least 5 percent of the votes and would've been given the same consideration as Luis Aparicio, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and many others.
Scott Rolen might fall into the same no-man's land as Lofton, I fear. He won't be elected in his first year of eligibility because his is not the slam-dunk case of a Ken Griffey Jr., and he might not get votes because of the 10-player ballot limit. If you believe the Hall should be a place where only the elite of the elite are honored -- like Griffey Jr. -- well, this is a nice sentiment but isn't in line with the long history of how players are inducted. Tim Raines, inducted last summer, was on the ballot for 10 years before he was elected, despite receiving as little as 22.6 percent of the votes in the years in which he was eligible. Aparicio polled at 27.8 percent in his first year on the ballot, on his way to being elected five years later.
Last week, Joe Morgan sent a letter to voters lobbying for them to keep steroid users out of the Hall of Fame. This is the most transparent evidence we've seen of the Hall's gerrymandering to keep Clemens and Bonds, in particular, from being elected. Given that many performance-enhancing drug users have already been inducted, the Hall of Fame's targeting of those two players (and Sosa and McGwire) seems strange -- particularly for an institution that had long served as a museum, impartial in presenting history. The folks who oversee the place will have to make their own peace with the decision to publicly demonize a very small handful of players for the sins of generations of baseball PED users.
But to continue to deploy voting rules seemingly designed against players like Clemens and Bonds -- while players like Lofton and perhaps Rolen are demonstrably hurt along the way -- is unconscionable and runs counter to the Hall's supposed mission.
The players on this year's ballot who were Hall of Fame caliber baseball players:
Barry Bonds: He hit more homers than anybody else, scored 2,227 runs, and reached base almost 5,700 times for a career on-base percentage of .444. He won seven MVP Awards. And, by the way, Major League Baseball regards him as a member in good standing, fostering his emeritus role with the Giants; through them, he continues to generate dollars for the business of baseball.
Roger Clemens: He won 354 games, pitched more than 5,000 innings in the regular season and postseason, and compiled 4,672 strikeouts. The Rocket made tons of money for the Red Sox, the Blue Jays, the Yankees, the Astros and for Major League Baseball, and he, too, is regarded as a member in good standing by MLB; he has had an emeritus role with the Astros.
Chipper Jones: He had a .401 career on-base percentage, 2,726 hits, 468 homers and finished in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting six times, winning the award in 1999. He was a lineup anchor for the Braves as they won year after year.
Jim Thome: He clubbed 612 homers and had a career on-base percentage over .400. An easy first-ballot selection.
Trevor Hoffman: Only Mariano Rivera has more saves than Hoffman, who racked up 601, and whether you think the save is a junk stat or not, Hoffman was an elite reliever in an era when the importance of having a good bullpen continued to grow. He pitched in 1,035 games and compiled an adjusted ERA+ of 141.
Billy Wagner: He had a career adjusted ERA+ of 187, and ranks sixth all time in saves.
Vladimir Guerrero: He hit .318 in his career, with 449 homers and an adjusted OPS+ of 140, which ranks among (or higher than) a lot of current Hall of Famers.
Edgar Martinez: In the years I cast a ballot, I never voted for the Mariners' DH, but given the sliding scale of candidates inducted, there is a place for a hitter with a career OPS+ of 147.
Mike Mussina: He thrived despite spending his entire career playing against the powerful AL East lineups of the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Orioles -- and in the steroid era, no less, where offensive numbers exploded.
Curt Schilling: His postseason numbers are staggering, and his adjusted ERA+ of 127 is in the neighborhood of Jim Palmer, Dazzy Vance and other Hall of Famers.
Jeff Kent: He's one of the best run-producers to ever man second base.
Manny Ramirez: He's a member in good standing with MLB despite his multiple PED suspensions, having worked with the Cubs' organization in 2016, and he is regarded by peers as one of the greatest hitters of his time.
Sammy Sosa: He hit 609 homers, drove in 1,667 runs and scored 1,475 runs. A member in good standing in the eyes of Major League Baseball, which benefited greatly from the McGwire-Sosa home run chase of 1998.
Omar Vizquel: He totaled 2,877 hits and scored 1,445 runs, and if you ask players of his time about the best defensive shortstops, his name is almost always a twin to that of Ozzie Smith. He won 11 Gold Gloves.
Gary Sheffield: Like Guerrero, he had an adjusted OPS+ of 140 in his career; 509 homers, 2,689 hits, and he was admired by peers for his ability to hit all pitchers with his ridiculous bat speed.
I don't know if Andruw Jones deserves to be a Hall of Famer, but I hope that he achieves the 5 percent necessary to remain on the ballot in the years to come. Fred McGriff is on the borderline, with an adjusted OPS+ of 134, 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs.
And today will be better than yesterday.