Tuesday night, the Baseball Writers Association of America had their yearly farce vote for who gets inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. As you can tell, I don’t put a lot of faith in the BBWAA to come to smart decisions about who does and does not get in to the Hall, but alas, they are still the approved method of voting. This year, on a ballot that contained numerous legitimate candidates for the Hall like Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Billy Wagner, and others, the only former player to reach the 75% vote threshold for inclusion was 3rd baseman Scott Rolen. While I personally feel that there are other deserving candidates as well, and Rolen’s deservedness can be debated based on certain statistics, the fact of the matter is that he will be enshrined in Cooperstown forever. That can’t be argued anymore, but the question that interests me as a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies is this: does Rolen, who spent the majority of his career with the Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals, count as a Phillies Hall of Famer?
My immediate gut feeling is no. Rolen came up to the majors with the Phillies. He won NL Rookie Of The Year in 1997 with the Phils. He locked up 3 Gold Gloves during his time here, and was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in the 2002 season. Here’s the issue, of course: Rolen was traded in 2002 to the St. Louis Cardinals after basically forcing his way out of Philadelphia. He turned his back on the city to take off for “baseball heaven” in Missouri, and had his most productive 4 year stretch of his career there. I will always think of Rolen more as a Cardinal than a Phillie (or a Red, where he made a pair of All-Star games in the twilight of his career). For me, personally, the general rule of thumb is that whatever jersey the player wore during their best stretch of their career is the team that gets to essentially claim that player. There are certainly some exceptions to that rule, the most recent example that comes to mind being Mike Mussina, who was significantly more productive on the mound in Baltimore, but also had some high profile seasons as a Yankee. Both of those teams have legitimate claim to Mussina’s legacy. Rolen, though, still feels like just a Cardinal to me.
I’ll tell you what, though; how a player leaves a city certainly matters to this argument. When I think about the career of the late, great Roy Halladay, I absolutely consider him a Philadelphia Phillie that is a Hall of Fame inductee. He spent 12 years in Toronto with the Blue Jays as opposed to his 4 in Philadelphia, but his first 2 years in Philly saw him win the Cy Young and finish 2nd, equaling his top 2 finishes in that award over his 12 years in Toronto. We also all loved Halladay, whose work ethic was heralded by teammates, media, and coaches alike. By the time Rolen had forced his way out of Philly in 2002, he was not loved by very many people in Philly, and we’re very good at holding grudges here. The bottom line is that Scott Rolen will always be a player who spent a huge part of a Hall of Fame career playing in this city. For that reason, he is objectively a Phillie HoF’er, but will this city claim him as one? Despite the stats on paper, my feeling still says no.