COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — 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 Tuesday night. He received just 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 homers and 1,287 RBIs 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 homers and 1,406 RBIs 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 Beltrán, John Lackey and Jered Weaver are among 14 newcomers, the first time writers will evaluate Beltrán following his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal en route to the 2017 World Series title.