January 26, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Without Scott Rolen, Canadian slugger Joey Votto likely wouldn’t be a six-time All-Star.
In an Instagram video posted on Tuesday night, Votto (Etobicoke, Ont..) spoke about how much Rolen, who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier that evening, meant to him as a teammate with the Cincinnati Reds early in his career.
“I loved playing with him. I learned so much,” said Votto in the video. “If any player is lucky enough to have a role model and a teammate like him, they are as lucky as it gets. I shaped my career, my effort, my work in his mold. He is a Hall of Famer today. Deserving. I have nothing but respect for him and his achievements. So, congrats to him and his family and his friends.”
Ernie Whitt was the bench coach of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 and he can remember Rolen, then a Jay and already a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner, taking ground ball after ground ball at third base prior to each game.
“I know Brian Butterfield, who was our infield coach, just absolutely loved the guy. His work habits were outstanding,” said Whitt of Rolen in an interview at the Baseball Canada National Teams Awards press conference on January 14.
“Scott wasn’t a guy who would go out there and take a few ground balls and say, ‘OK, I’m ready for the game.’ He worked extremely hard to finetune the tools that he had. He was a tremendous defensive player, but when you look at his offensive numbers, they’re pretty damn good, too.”
Whitt must have been smiling on Tuesday when he heard that Rolen had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Rolen was the only candidate on the baseball writers’ ballot to garner enough support for induction. The seven-time All-Star received 297 votes or 76.3 per cent support, just exceeding the 75 per cent required for enshrinement.
Originally selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the second round of the 1993 MLB Draft, Rolen batted .283 and posted a .377 on-base percentage (OBP) with 21 home runs, 92 RBIs, 93 runs and 16 stolen bases in 1997 to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
The hard-nosed infielder proceeded to play 2,038 games in 17 big league seasons, spanning from 1996 to 2012, with the Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds. Along the way, he collected eight Gold Glove awards at third base, seven All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger Award. He finished his major league career with a .281 batting average, 2,077 hits – including 316 home runs – while scoring 1,211 runs and knocking in 1,287. He also earned a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2006.
In 203 games with the Blue Jays in 2008 and 2009, Rolen had 205 hits – including 19 home runs – and batted .288 with a .358 OBP before he was dealt to the Reds on July 31, 2009 for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart.
Rolen, who was in his sixth year of eligibility, will be honoured in a ceremony on July 23 in Cooperstown, along with fellow ex-Jay Fred McGriff, who was elected by the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee in December.
Rolen’s influence on Votto and his tenure with the Blue Jays are just two of his Canadian connections. Here are some more:
- In 44 games against the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium, Rolen batted .242 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs. He belted his first home run at Olympic Stadium on May 22, 1998. It was a three-run shot off right-hander Javier Vazquez in the first inning in a Phillies’ 7-5 win.
- In 20 games against the Blue Jays, Rolen batted .319 with four home runs and 12 RBIs and scored 18 runs.
- In 105 contests at the SkyDome/Rogers Centre, Rolen batted .281 with 13 home runs and 49 RBIs. He also had 30 doubles and 66 runs. His first homer at SkyDome came on July 15, 2000 when he belted a solo shot off David Wells in a Phillies’ 7-3 victory.
- One of Rolen’s favourite teammates was Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.). The two played together with the Cardinals in 2004 and 2005. When Rolen was asked in a Bally Sports interview in September 2017 about who was the best player he ever played with, his answer was Walker. “There isn’t any question because there’s nothing he couldn’t do out there,” said Rolen. “He ran the bases. He knew how to run the bases. He knew that running the bases was an offensive weapon. And you’re on base to score runs. You’re not just on base to steal bases. He played unbelievable Gold Glove outfield. He threw the ball and never missed a cut off . . . He hit the ball as hard as anybody.”
- By my count, including Walker, Rolen had nine Canadian big league teammates: Rob Butler (East York, Ont., Phillies, 1997), Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont., Phillies, 1999 to 2001), Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C., Phillies, 1999), Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B., Phillies 2001-02), Cody McKay (Vancouver, B.C., Cardinals, 2004), Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B., Blue Jays, 2008), Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C., Blue Jays, 2008-09) and Votto (Etobicoke, Ont., Reds, 2009-12).
- Canadian pitchers generally fared well against Rolen in the major leagues. Here’s a summary of how he hit against them:
- Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) – 6-for-34 (.176 batting average), one home run
- Rich Harden (Victoria, B.C.) – 1-for-9 (.111 batting average), one home run
- Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) – 1-for-14 (.071 batting average)
- Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.) – 2-for-8 (.250 batting average)
- Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) – 0-for-7 (.000 batting average)
- Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont) – 3-for-6 (.500 batting average)
- Eric Gagne (Mascouche, Que.) – 1-for-4 (.250 batting average)
- Dave Wainhouse (Toronto, Ont) – 0-for-3 (.000 batting average)
- The 2023 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony will represent the first time that two former Blue Jays players – Rolen and McGriff – will be inducted together. In 2011, Roberto Alomar (second baseman) and Pat Gillick (executive) were honoured. In 2014, Bobby Cox (manager) and Frank Thomas (DH) were inducted together.
- McGriff and Rolen will become the ninth and 10th former Blue Jays players to be inducted. They will join Phil Niekro (1997), Dave Winfield (2001), Paul Molitor (2004), Rickey Henderson (2009), Alomar (2011), Thomas (2014), Jack Morris (2018) and Roy Halladay (2019).
Congratulatory tweets from former teammates and a manager: