After five years of coming up short, Scott Rolen finally got the call to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His candidacy was the subject of much debate from the moment he appeared on the ballot. Despite his seven All-Star Games, eight Gold Gloves, and 70 career bWAR, Rolen received just 10.2% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. Until now, no player had ever made the Hall after receiving such little support in his first appearance on the ballot.
For the last six offseasons, the baseball world has had a spirited debate over the merits of Rolen’s candidacy. Every year, more and more members of the BBWAA joined the cause. At long last, the discussion is over – or, at the very least, the issue is moot. Yet when the baseball gods close one debate, they open up another. Rolen is a Hall of Famer, but which team’s cap will he wear on his plaque?
Rolen played for four teams during his 17-year career: the Phillies, the Cardinals, the Blue Jays, and the Reds. He played well for the Blue Jays but didn’t stay in Canada very long. He was solid for the Reds, too, especially in 2010, but his final two years in Cincinnati marked a sharp decline and the end of his playing days. Thus, his Hall of Fame plaque should bear the insignia of either the Philadelphia Phillies or the St. Louis Cardinals. Which will it be?
The Case for the Phillies
Rolen played in Philadelphia longer than any other city, suiting up in Phillies pinstripes for 844 games over seven seasons. His numbers were nearly identical with both the Phillies and the Cardinals, but his longer tenure in Philadelphia allowed him to rack up more WAR in the City of Brotherly Love. He posted a 126 OPS+ and 29.2 bWAR for the Phillies and a 127 OPS+ with 25.9 bWAR for the Cardinals.
Aside from the numbers, Rolen accomplished quite a lot in Philadelphia. He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1997, beating out fellow Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero. He also made his first All-Star team as a member of the Phillies and won three Gold Gloves manning the hot corner at Veterans Stadium. Finally, while he won his only Silver Slugger in 2002 as a member of the Cardinals, he spent the first two-thirds of that season punishing the baseball for the Phillies.
The Case for the Cardinals
Rolen didn’t spend as long with the Cardinals, but he became a true superstar during his tenure in St. Louis. He made four straight All-Star teams from 2003-2006 and won a Gold Glove in three of those four seasons. In 2004, the best season of his career, he finished fourth in MVP voting and posted 9.2 bWAR.
The Cardinals won four NL Central titles and two NL pennants during Rolen’s time with the club. His biggest accomplishment came in 2006, when he helped the team win a World Series championship. He hit .421 in the World Series, either scoring a run or driving one home in all five games.
Rolen was elected to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame by fan vote in 2019. Clearly, he’s beloved by fans in St. Louis, and deservedly so.
The Case Against the Phillies
The final point in the Cardinals’ favor is not so much an argument for the Cardinals as it is an argument against the Phillies.
Scott Rolen’s relationship with the Phillies and their fanbase soured when the star third baseman requested a trade. He was upset the front office wasn’t making enough effort to build a winning team, so he refused to negotiate a contract extension. Eventually, the Phillies dealt him to the Cardinals at the 2002 trade deadline. He became something of a villain in Philadelphia after that, earning boos from the crowd every time he returned.
More than 20 years have passed since that trade, and it’s time to let bygones be byones. At the same time, it would be hard to blame Rolen or the Hall of Fame for preferring to focus on his much more pleasant relationship with the Cardinals organization.
Therefore, I’d bet good money Rolen enters the Hall with a Cardinals cap on his plaque. On stats alone, the Phillies have the slightly better case. But all things considered, the narrative of his career pushes things in the Cardinals’ favor. If the Hall of Fame exists to tell the story of baseball, Rolen should be enshrined as the Cardinals icon he is.