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3B Rolen among top HOF choices

by RONALD BLUM AP Baseball Writer | January 24, 2023 at 3:43 a.m.
FILE - St. Louis Cardinals Scott Rolen watches his two-run home run off Houston Astros pitcher Chad Harville in the fifth inning during Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004. Rolen could become just the 18th third baseman elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, the fewest of any position. Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner are the leading contenders in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

NEW YORK -- Scott Rolen could become just the 18th third baseman elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, the fewest of any position.

"It stems from an original prejudice that third base is not important defensively," John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, said Monday. "I think Brooks Robinson changed that perception. So that just as relief pitchers for the longest time were regarded as failed starters rather than as a new position in the changing game, third basemen were regarded as washouts."

A seven-time All-Star who retired after the 2012 season, Rolen is among the top contenders on the 28-player ballot considered by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in a vote announced tonight. He received 10.2% in his first ballot appearance in 2018 and climbed to 52.9% in 2021 and 63.2% last year, when he fell 47 votes shy of the needed 75%.

The leading vote-getters are first baseman Todd Helton at 79.8%, Rolen at 79.2% and reliever Billy Wagner at 73.2%, according to Ryan Thibodaux's Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker, which included 183 public plus anonymous ballots as of Monday afternoon among an estimated total of 396.

When David Ortiz was elected last year, his final figure of 79.8% was down from 83.1% of public ballots ahead of the announcement. Barry Bonds declined from 76.8% of public ballots before the announcement to 66% and Roger Clemens from 75.4% to 65.2%, so it is possible no one will be elected by the BBWAA for the second time in three years. This could become the first three-year span with only one player voted in by the writers since annual voting started in 1966.

Anyone voted in would be inducted at Cooperstown on July 23 along with Fred McGriff, elected last month by the contemporary baseball era committee.

There are 84 pitchers in the Hall (including nine who were primarily relievers), 27 right fielders, 26 each among first basemen and shortstops, 24 center fielders, 23 left fielders, 20 second basemen, 19 catchers and 17 third basemen. There also are three players who were primarily designated hitters, a position that didn't exist until 1973.

Among players since the expansion era started in 1961, the only third basemen elected by the BBWAA have been Robinson (1983), Mike Schmidt (1995), George Brett (1999), Paul Molitor (2004), Wade Boggs (2005) and Chipper Jones (2018). Ron Santo was inducted in 2012 following a veterans committee vote.

"It's a very difficult position to play because you need to be very quick and the great third basemen have to be able to hit," former Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "And when you think about it, after Brooks Robinson and Mike Schmidt the number falls off pretty quickly."

Rolen had a .281 batting average with 316 home runs and 1,287 RBI for Philadelphia (1996-2002), St. Louis (2002-07), Toronto (2008-09) and Cincinnati (2009-12). He was a unanimous pick as the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, hit .421 as the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series and won eight Gold Gloves.

Helton, a five-time All-Star, batted .316 with 369 home runs and 1,406 RBI with Colorado from 1997-2013. He won the 2000 NL batting title and three Gold Gloves. Helton's vote percentage rose from 16.5% in 2019 to 52% last year.

Wagner had 422 saves, sixth on the career list, and was a seven-time All-Star in a 16-year career with Houston (1995-2003), Philadelphia (2004-05), the New York Mets (2006-09), Boston (2009) and Atlanta (2010). Wagner's vote increased from 10.5% in 2016 to 51% last year.

Carlos Beltran, John Lackey and Jered Weaver are among 14 newcomers, the first time writers will evaluate Beltran following his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal en route to the 2017 World Series title.

  photo  FILE - St. Louis Cardinals Scott Rolen and teammate Albert Pujols celebrate as Detroit Tigers Ramon Santiago walks off the field after the St. Louis Cardinals defeated Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of the World Series in St. Louis, Oct. 27, 2006. Rolen could become just the 18th third baseman elected to baseball's Hall of Fame, the fewest of any position. Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner are the leading contenders in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.(AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton recovers a ball he misplayed off the bat of Pittsburgh Pirates' Humberto Cota and tosses to Rockies pitcher Joe Kennedy to make the out at first base during the fifth inning Sunday, May 22, 2005, in Pittsburgh. Helton, Billy Wagner and Scott Rolen are leading contenders to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton (17) celebrates after he made the last out to win Game 4 of the National League Championship baseball series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, 6-4, and advance to the World Series, Monday, Oct. 15, 2007, in Denver. Helton, Billy Wagner and Scott Rolen are leading contenders to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Colorado Rockies' Todd Helton swings at a pitch from Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Sean Marshall in the first inning of a Major League baseball game in Denver on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2007. Helton, Billy Wagner and Scott Rolen are leading contenders to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton smiles as he talks about his nine-year contract extension announced by the team, Thursday, March 29, 2001, in Tucson, Ariz. Helton, Billy Wagner and Scott Rolen are leading contenders to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE -- New York Mets baseball player Billy Wagner is shown Feb. 23, 2008, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Wagner, Scott Rolen and Todd Helton are leading contenders to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - New York Mets' Billy Wagner reacts after the third out against the Los Angeles Dodgers to end Game 2 of Major League Baseball's National League Division Series, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006, at Shea Stadium in New York. The Mets won, 4-1. Wagner, Scott Rolen and Todd Helton are leading contenders to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - New York Mets pitcher Billy Wagner throws a pitch in the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field in New York, Aug. 24, 2009. Wagner, Scott Rolen and Todd Helton are leading contenders to be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in the Baseball Writers' Association of America vote announced Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill, File)
 
 

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