SECAUCUS, N.J. — Scott Rolen — drafted by the Phillies four years after the greatest player in franchise history retired — never wanted to be Mike Schmidt.
“Going into Philadelphia, that was never reasonable to me. I never went in with a bunch of stress and a bunch of pressure that I was going to be Mike Schmidt,” Rolen said Friday at MLB Network’s Studio 42. “I mean, this is the best third baseman that’s ever played the game, arguably. … I was never going to be Mike Schmidt, and I didn’t want to be Mike Schmidt.”
It turned out, Rolen didn’t need to be Schmidt to be a Hall of Fame third baseman.
On Friday, he sat next to Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch and Baseball Writers’ Association of America secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell, introduced as the only member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023. The press conference at Studio 42 was Rolen’s first in-person event since he was announced as a Hall of Famer on Tuesday.
“I never thought I was gonna be a Hall of Fame player, I never thought I’d get drafted, I never thought I’d make it through the Minor Leagues, the Major Leagues, and get a chance to win to a World Series with the Cardinals,” Rolen said. “I wasn’t born and raised in Jasper, Ind., to be a baseball player, to be a Major League Baseball player, to be a Hall of Famer.”
Now, he is. Like Schmidt, Rolen became one of the best third basemen ever. But the stars he looked up to as a young ballplayer in Indiana played other positions.
“I had a poster of Don Mattingly hanging above my bed,” Rolen said. “He was from Evansville, Ind. — that’s an hour away. So I loved to watch him play. He was certainly a celebrity and a legend in our area.
“And then when I started getting into it and watching the game a little bit more — I don’t know if I ever crossed paths with him, but Kirk Gibson was a guy that I really enjoyed watching. He’d kind of take a football approach to a baseball game and be a running back on a baseball diamond. I guess I emulated those two guys a little bit growing up, their style of play.”
When Rolen did reach the Major Leagues, there was another legend who ended up influencing his career: Cal Ripken Jr.
“I was young, and we were playing an exhibition game against the Orioles. I went over, knocked on the clubhouse door, and asked if I could speak to Mr. Ripken,” Rolen recalled. He wanted advice about how to handle playing every day from the “Iron Man” himself, who holds the MLB record with 2,632 consecutive games played.
“He gave me some incredible advice: That I hold a place on my team, in the lineup, whether I’m going to be good or not good. That doesn’t matter. There’s some accountability to have for your position on the field and your position in the lineup. … You can have an impact on the outcome of a game by just being there and showing up and doing your job and playing.”
“I went through my whole career, and I never asked for a day off — and I was never going to,” Rolen said.
Rolen started 1,994 games at third base in his career. He started zero at DH. Even though he played most of his career in the National League for the Phillies, Cardinals and Reds, that still includes 217 Interleague games and 203 games in the American League with the Blue Jays.
“It did come up, about DHing, and at that time I was asked about it,” Rolen said. “I always just felt like I was more valuable fielding than not fielding.”
In the three days since he was announced as a Hall of Famer, Rolen has gotten to relive some of the best moments of his career with his son, Finn, who he played catch with immediately after receiving the call that he had been elected to Cooperstown.
The Rolens don’t usually sit around watching highlights of Scott, he said with a laugh on Friday. But with all the highlights on TV since the Hall of Fame announcement, he and his son have made an exception.
“We get to go back through and see some World Series stuff [from 2006], and the home run off of Roger Clemens in Game 7 of [the 2004] NLCS is always a thrill,” Rolen said.
“And he’s heard defensive stories … and they’re talking about barehanded plays, and, yeah, I’m reliving them. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, it looked like that hurt.’
“We’ve been enjoying those things together, seeing some of those highlights.”