COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Preparation and persistence paid off one more time Sunday afternoon for Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen.
The day had come for McGriff and Rolen to be officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at the Clark Sports Center in this bucolic upstate New York town.
“For the last six months or so, you’re on the phone with (Hall of Fame executives) and you’re talking and they’re trying to talk you through everything,'” McGriff said at a press conference after the ceremony. “And then you finally get out there and you’re on stage and it’s go time and then you’re like ‘Oh, OK, I’m all right.’
“You get out there on game day and you’re like ‘OK, all right, I’m ready for this. Let’s do it.'”
Rolen, who said he was up for an hour or so in the middle of the night, saw his teenage son upon waking up and asked how he was doing.
“He goes ‘I’m excited, Dad,'” Rolen said before a small grin crossed his face. “I went ‘Man, I haven’t tried that emotion yet.’ I’ve tried so many other ones and they weren’t working too well. I may go with that right there. I’m excited and we’ll just see what happens.”
McGriff and Rolen, speaking to an estimated crowd of 10,000 on a warm sunny afternoon with temperatures in the mid-80s, each referenced the modest first steps on their Hall of Fame-bound paths.
As a 10th-grader in Tampa, Fla., McGriff was cut from his high school team. But two years later, he was selected by the New York Yankees in the ninth round of the 1981 draft. The first baseman hit 493 homers, is one of four players to win a home run title in each league and won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995.
“What is your dream?” McGriff said. “Since elementary school, mine has been to play in the major leagues. It’s been a long journey with a lot of hard work. Put in thousands of hours trying to get better.
“But like I tell everyone: A computer can’t measure what’s in someone’s heart. And I always had heart.”
Rolen won eight Gold Gloves, ranks among the top 20 third basemen all-time in homers, RBIs and doubles and won the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.
The former multi-sport high school star from Indiana was fueled by a lesson he learned from his dad, Ed, in the summer of 1993. Scott Rolen had said he felt he could only outwork and out-hustle his peers in a basketball tournament pitting the best players from Indiana and Kentucky.
“And then came the words of wisdom: ‘Well, do that then,'” Rolen said. “Turns out that ‘Well, do that then’ carried me into the minor leagues and gave me a simple mindset that I would never allow myself to be unprepared or outworked. ‘Well, do that then’ put me on this stage today.”
The path from retirement to induction was also a lengthy one for both players. McGriff never received more than 39.8 percent of the vote during his 10 years on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot before he was unanimously elected via the 16-person Contemporary Era Committee last December.
“When your career is validated by former players and executives who saw you play, that’s as good as it gets,” McGriff said.
Rolen, who was elected by the voting members of the BBWAA in his sixth year of eligibility, received 10.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 2018 — the smallest debut percentage for anyone eventually inducted.
“I want to thank the baseball writers for having faith and sticking with me through my career in the voting process,” Rolen said. “At no point in my life did it ever occur to me that I’d be standing on this stage. I’m glad it occurred to you, because this is unbelievably special.”
Outside of 2021 — when the BBWAA didn’t elect anyone and the Era Committees didn’t meet due in December 2020 due to the pandemic — the two-person class was the smallest since Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted in 2016.
Likely inductee Adrian Beltre debuts on the ballot next year to join holdovers Todd Helton (72.2 percent of the vote this year) and Billy Wagner (68.1 percent), each of whom fell just shy of the 75 percent necessary for enshrinement in this year’s balloting. The Contemporary Era Committee will also meet in December to discuss managers, executives and umpires whose careers took place since 1980.
–By Jerry Beach, Field Level Media
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