Scott Rolen

This article was written by Tim Odzer

“You know ‘W.W.J.D., what would Jesus do’? Here, it’s what would Scott do? He doesn’t argue with the umpires, he runs every single ball out, he makes great plays, he makes routine plays, he gets the runner in when he needs to get him in, he gets the runner over when he needs to get him over. He just plays the game exactly how it should be played. You never second-guess anything he does."Jonny Gomes1

 

Scott RolenWhen Scott Rolen played his first game with the Phillies, he was seen as a potential successor to Mike Schmidt. By the end of Rolen’s career, the comparison proved fitting. Although Rolen’s on-the-field achievements failed to match those of Schmidt’s, he still established himself as one of the best third basemen of all time. A 6-foot-4, 245-pound man who batted right and threw right, Rolen was described as the “perfect player” and a “no-nonsense star” during his career year in 2004.2

A strong offensive player who regularly hit 25 to 30 home runs per season, Rolen also provided exemplary defense at the hot corner. Rolen was also known for his acrimonious exits from two teams, as he twice clashed with his managers and found himself shipped off to other teams.

Scott Bruce Rolen was born on April 4, 1975, in Evansville, Indiana to Ed and Linda Rolen. Both of Rolen’s parents were schoolteachers. He had two older siblings, Kristin and Todd. He grew up in Jasper, Indiana, a small town in Southwestern Indiana. Ed and Linda consciously served as role models for their children, seeking to instill them with a strong work ethic, compassion for others, and an ability to do the right thing.3 All three of the Rolen children played sports growing up, though neither Kristin nor Todd possessed Scott’s athletic gifts. Instead, his two siblings would follow in their parents’ footsteps and become schoolteachers.

Playing youth sports in a small town, young Scott did not seek the spotlight. His father hypothesized that this stemmed from a small town culture where the residents did not like arrogant athletes.4 Nor was Scott a mischievous youth; in fact, he was always in bed before midnight.5 In high school, Scott played baseball and basketball. During his senior year, he was named Mr. Baseball for Indiana and named runner-up for its Mr. Basketball award. Rolen received scholarship offers to play basketball at Georgia and Oklahoma State, but his dream was to play basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats. Rolen even showed his basketball highlights to Kentucky coach Rick Pitino while visiting Kentucky on a baseball-recruiting trip.6 Ultimately, Kentucky did not offer Rolen a scholarship and he committed to play basketball for Georgia. But he chose baseball when the Phillies took him in the second round of the 1993 draft and convinced him to sign with them.

Rolen started off his professional career as an 18-year-old in rookie ball in 1993, before advancing to Philadelphia’s Class A affiliate in Spartanburg for the 1994 season. His strong performance at both levels led to Rolen being ranked number 91 on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list prior to the 1995 season. He climbed to number 27 in 1996, and after a strong .324/.416/.515 performance in Double-A and Triple-A to start the 1996 season, he was called up by the Phillies.

Rolen made his major-league debut on August 1, 1996, batting sixth and playing third base. He went 1-for-4 in his first game, hitting a double for his first major league hit off Donovan Osborne in the bottom of the fourth. Rolen took over as the Phillies’ starting third baseman, hitting .254/.322/.400 with four home runs over 130 at-bats. Playing in the major leagues was an awe-inspiring experience for Rolen, who was initially overwhelmed by the big crowds.7 Rolen did not exhaust his rookie eligibility in 1996, falling a single at-bat away when he suffered a season-ending injury on a hit-by-pitch.

Scott RolenThus, Rolen went into 1997 with expectations that he would win the Rookie of the Year award. Rolen met those expectations, hitting .283 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs (leading all rookies in those categories) and winning the Rookie of the Year award. During his initial major-league experience, Rolen spent his free time reading books assigned by his parents, including On the Road and Crime and Punishment.8 He also prioritized spending time with his family and his two dogs.

Following the 1997 season, Rolen signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Phillies. At the time of the signing, Phillies GM Ed Wade called Rolen the “most mature and levelheaded” young player he had ever been around.9 Rolen’s rookie performance even attracted the attention of Ted Williams, who said 1997 was a preview of better things to come for Rolen.10 And it was. Rolen established himself as an elite major-league player in 1998, hitting .290/.391/.532 with 31 home runs and 110 RBIs. He also had an exceptional defensive season, winning his first career Gold Glove award. The Phillies only won 75 games that year, finishing in third place.

Rolen had strong seasons in both 1999 and 2000, producing a combined 9.4 fWAR. He did play both seasons with a bad back, saying there were times it was difficult to make it through a game.11 The Phillies struggled through losing seasons in both 1999 and 2000, and fired Terry Francona as manager after the 2000 season.

Larry Bowa took over as Phillies manager prior to the 2001 season. The fiery manager and Rolen did not get along. The team got off to a hot start, bolstered by the addition of rookie shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and found itself in first place at the start of June. But in the midst of a bad stretch in early June that culminated in a series loss to Boston, Bowa called out Rolen, telling a newspaper: “[I]f the No. 4 guy even makes contact in either Boston loss, we win the series. He’s killing us.”12 There was no doubt Bowa was speaking about Rolen, the team’s regular cleanup hitter. Bowa’s comments infuriated Rolen. For his part, Bowa characterized the episode as a mere misunderstanding, the result of two men from different backgrounds and upbringings.13

That was only Rolen’s first clash with Phillies management in 2001. In August, Dallas Green, a Phillies executive assistant and the manager of the 1980 World Series champions, went on the radio and said that Rolen was not a great player, in part because Rolen’s personality was preventing him from becoming a great player.14 In spite of the off-the-field distractions, Rolen put up another strong season. Still, he characterized the 2001 season as the worst of his career because of Bowa and Green, telling reporters he did not feel as welcome in the organization as he had in the past.15

With Rolen a free agent after the 2002 season, Philadelphia offered him a seven-year, $90 million extension with options and incentives that could have made the contract a ten-year deal for $140 million. Rolen declined the offer. Prior to the start of spring training, he held a press conference during which he explained his decision to turn down the contract. Rolen said that Phillies management, despite operating in baseball’s fourth largest market, failed to spend like a big-market team. He spoke positively about the team’s strong young core, including Rollins, catcher Mike Lieberthal, right fielder Bobby Abreu, and left fielder Pat Burrell, but doubted that the organization would spend the money to keep the team together.16

During spring training in 2002, Rolen worked with Mike Schmidt, who told Rolen he respected his decision to leave Philadelphia.17 Rolen got off to a hot start, but struggled in the second month as his average fell from .284 at the end of April to .240 at the end of May. In June, anonymous Phillies told reporters the team needed to trade Rolen because he was a clubhouse cancer. The story disappointed Rolen, who said he tried to be a professional every day and was merely exercising his right to become a free agent.18

Regardless of the turmoil, Rolen was selected to his first All-Star Game in 2002, with a .253/.349/.458 batting line, 13 home runs, and 58 RBIs at the break. On July 29, Rolen was traded to the Cardinals in exchange for Placido Polanco, Bud Smith, and Mike Timlin. Reflecting on the end of Rolen’s tenure, Phillies GM Ed Wade said that Rolen changed over his time with the Phillies and the team and the player were no longer a good fit.19

Rolen was excited with the move to St. Louis. It was even a homecoming of sorts: as a Midwestern kid, Rolen attended Cardinals games growing up. Rolen debuted for the Cardinals on July 30, 2002, batting fifth. Rolen made his return to Philadelphia in mid-August, where he was greeted by boos. Unfazed by the cold reception, Rolen maintained he was proud of his tenure in Philadelphia because he played hard every day.20 He played well in his new home over the final two months, hitting 14 home runs in the final 55 games and helping the Cardinals win the Central. He also signed an eight-year, $90 million contract extension with the Cardinals at the end of September. Rolen told reporters he was happy with the contract and did not think it was necessary to chase the last dollar.21

The Cardinals bowed out of the 2002 playoffs in the NLCS; Rolen was unable to play in the series after suffering a season-ending injury in Game Two of the NLDS. Off the field in 2002, Rolen married Niki Warner. Rolen had another All-Star season in 2003, but the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs despite having four players (left fielder Albert Pujols, shortstop Edgar Renteria, center fielder Jim Edmonds, and Rolen) with six-plus wins-above-replacement seasons. Rolen was dissatisfied with the effort put forth by some teammates (though he did not specify who), feeling that a problematic clubhouse environment harmed the team in 2003.22

Rolen’s best major-league season came in 2004. He posted career highs in every offensive category, putting up a .314/.409/.598 line with 34 home runs and 124 RBIs for a career-high 9.2 fWAR. Along with Edmonds and Pujols, Rolen formed part of powerful triumvirate known as the “MV3.” Rolen was comfortable and relaxed in 2004, happy to come to the ballpark and enjoying the supportive St. Louis fans. Remarkably, his strong season came during a tumultuous time in Rolen’s personal life as his father endured a cancer scare and his five-year old nephew underwent successful heart surgery.23

Rolen was selected to the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove. He also finished fourth in NL MVP voting, sandwiched between Pujols and Edmonds. The Cardinals won 105 games that year and advanced to the World Series, with Rolen hitting two home runs in Game Two of the NLCS and then bashing the go-ahead two-run home run off Roger Clemens in Game Seven of the NLCS to help St. Louis win the pennant. But Rolen went hitless in the World Series and the Cardinals were swept by Boston.

The Cardinals won 100 games in 2005, but did not receive much assistance from Rolen. Rolen’s 2005 season was interrupted on May 10, 2005, when his shoulder was injured in a collision with Hee-Seop Choi. He initially attempted to rehabilitate, and returned to game action in mid-June. But the injury persisted, and Rolen went back on the disabled list on July 22 and had season-ending surgery. Rolen was frustrated with how St. Louis handled his shoulder injury, as the team wanted him to put off surgery until the end of the season despite what Rolen felt was significant shoulder damage.24

Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols celebrate the final out of the 2006 World SeriesHe returned to full strength in 2006 and had another All-Star campaign as the Cardinals won the NL Central for the third-straight year. Rolen’s shoulder injury flared up towards the end of the season, hindering the quality of his at-bats. Rolen was benched for Game Four of the 2006 NLDS and for Game Two of the NLCS. He disagreed with Tony La Russa, and did not speak with La Russa for the remainder of the postseason following his initial benching.25 Rolen did get hits in his final 10 postseason games, helping the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series.

Going into the 2007 season, Rolen and La Russa appeared to settle their spat at the outset of spring training. Rolen did not hear from La Russa during the offseason, and found the silence disconcerting.26 Yet general manager Walt Jocketty opened up communication between the two men, and both said positive things going into the 2007 season.27 With his shoulder injury lingering, Rolen struggled through an injury-riddled campaign, posting a below-average batting line of .265/.331/.398. The relationship between La Russa and Rolen soured further in 2007.

Following the season, Rolen asked to be traded. Armed with knowledge of this request, La Russa criticized Rolen at that year’s winter meetings, telling reporters that he would not accommodate Rolen and that if Rolen had an issue with that, he should quit.28 The Cardinals eventually relented, trading Rolen to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Troy Glaus. The dispute with La Russa marked the second time that Rolen’s stint with a team ended due to a feud with his manager. Years later, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said that Rolen was the only player he regretted trading.29

Rolen arrived at Blue Jays camp in 2008 hoping for a fresh start. But his first season with Toronto did not go as planned. He fractured his middle finger and tore a fingernail in spring training, delaying his Blue Jays debut until April 25. Then in August, he was forced to the disabled list for the remainder of the season. He played in 115 games in 2008, but did not have a typical Scott Rolen season. He had a better season for Toronto in 2009, going on a twenty-five game hitting streak from June 8 to July 8. Prior to the trade deadline, Rolen asked Toronto for a trade, saying he wanted to be closer to his Indiana home to deal with personal matters.30

On July 31, 2009, Rolen was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. He was injured in his second game with the Reds when he suffered a serious beaning. Following the beaning, he experienced concussion symptoms that sent him to the disabled list. But after his return, the Reds went 27-13 as Rolen put up his best season since 2006. Following the season, he agreed to a restructured contract that converted his $11 million salary for 2010 into a three-year, $24 million extension.

Going into the 2010 season, Rolen was optimistic about the Reds’ chances for a successful campaign. He was excited to restructure his contract because he felt there was a good chance for a turnaround. As a veteran, 35-year old player, Rolen took on the role of leader and mentor, a player whom Cincinnati’s young core looked to for guidance. Though Rolen was a quiet leader in the clubhouse, he was someone who Joey Votto felt kept the club accountable.31

Both Rolen and the Reds had strong 2010 campaigns. Rolen made his sixth All-Star team, won a Gold Glove, and finished fourteenth in NL MVP voting. The Reds won the NL Central and made the playoffs for the first time since 1995. The Phillies swept the Reds in the NLDS, as Rolen went 1-for-11 and struck eight out times.

Rolen suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 season, playing in only 65 games, though he was selected to his seventh and final All-Star team. In 2012, Rolen played his final major-league season, appearing in 92 games, but performing far below his typical season, hitting .245/.318/.398 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs. The Reds won the NL Central in 2012, and played the Giants in the NLDS. The Reds won the first two games, but lost the final three to the eventual World Series champions. In Game Five, with the tying runs on base, Rolen struck out to end the Reds’ season and his career.

Rolen received interest from the Reds and Dodgers for the 2013 season, but did not sign with either team. Nagged by injuries and helping to raise two young children, Raine Taylor and Finn Edward, Rolen chose to stay home. By 2014, Rolen still had not filed the paperwork to officially retire, but had no plans to come back. He missed baseball, but felt it was time to move on with life. In retirement, Rolen has played golf, worked with his charity, coached his children, and helped with Indiana University basketball and baseball. In 2018, Rolen was named the director of player development for Indiana University’s baseball team.32

Rolen’s legacy as a player is secure. He finished his career with a .281/.364/.490 batting line, 316 home runs, 2,077 hits, 1,287 RBIs, and eight Gold Gloves. These accolades rank him among the top fifteen in career wins above replacement for third basemen all-time, as calculated by Fangraphs.com. He also defined himself through his character: he was a reserved star who played the game with all-out effort.

Yet Rolen’s greatest impact came off the field. Throughout his career, Rolen took advantage of his platform to make a difference in the lives of others. During his time with the Phillies, Rolen visited sick children in the hospital. He observed how the appearance of the major leaguers provided the children and their families with momentary relief. He continued to volunteer time for various children’s charities.

Eventually, Rolen decided to start a children’s charity with his brother, sister, and wife. The charity was the Enis Furley Foundation, named after Rolen’s dog, with the mission of putting smiles on the faces of kids who were ill or had fallen on hard times.33 As part of the charity work, Rolen created a 40-acre recreation site with horses, golf courses, canoes, and baseball fields. Families were allowed to stay at the site with all expenses paid by the charity. Rolen took immense pride in his off-the-field work, recognizing that it was more important to be happy in life than happy because of his achievements on the ball field.

Last revised: July 10, 2019

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Phil Williams and Joel Barnhart, and fact-checked by David Kritzler.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author relied primarily upon Rolen’s file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and contemporary newspaper articles about Rolen.

 

Notes

1 Tyler Kepner, “Investment in Rolen is Paying Off for the Reds,” New York Times, June 1, 2010.

2 Tom Verducci, “He’s the Perfect Player,” Sports Illustrated, July 12, 2004, 56-60.

3 Bill Lyon, “Rolens Set the Example for Their Son,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 30, 1998, C1, C13.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Brian Lewis, “KY. Hoops was Rolen’s Dream,” New York Post, April 1, 1998.

7 “Phillies Rookie Rolen with the Punches,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, June 11, 1997, 6.

8 Ibid.

9 Jim Salisbury, “Once-Happy Union Ends in a Divorce,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 2002, E1, E4.

10 Chuck Johnson, “Phillies’ Rolen Earns Respect From Legends,” USA Today, November 5, 1997.

11 Verducci, “He’s the Perfect Player.”

12 Larry Bowa, I Still Hate to Lose (Sports Publishing, L.L.C., USA, 2004), 188-191.

13 Ibid.

14 Jim Salisbury, “Is Green’s Criticism Last Straw for Rolen?” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 2001, E1, E5

15 Dave Sheinin, “Orioles are Perched for Major Acquisition,” Washington Post, August 12, 2001.

16 Salisbury, “Once-Happy Union Ends in a Divorce.”

17 Bill Madden, “In Schmidt, Rolen Finally Gets His Phil,” New York Daily News, March 6, 2002.

18 Bob Brookover, “Rolen Keeps Getting Unhappier and Unhappier,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 11, 2002.

19 Salisbury, “Once-Happy Union Ends in a Divorce.”

20 Sam Carchidi, “Rolen’s Reception Mixed,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 17, 2002.

21 “Rolen Signs 8-Year Extension,” New York Times, September 28, 2002.

22 Joe Strauss, “Relaxed Rolen Fits in Nicely,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 21, 2004.

23 Ibid.

24 Joe Strauss, “Surgery on Rolen Proves Complicated,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 30, 2005, D1, D5.

25 Joe Strauss, “Finally Peace…Rolen, La Russa End Their Spat,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 24, 2007, B4.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 “La Russa Says Cards Will Do What’s Right for Team, Not Player,” Associated Press, December 6, 2007, http://www.espn.com/mlb/news/story?id=3143441, accessed April 17, 2019.

29 Rick Hummel, “Mozeliak: The only player I regret trading,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 5, 2014, https://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/mozeliak-the-only-player-i-regret-trading/article_bde45281-fb8b-5029-9247-672d6cec9027.html, accessed April 17, 2019.

30 Jared Macdonald, “Scott Rolen’s Blissful Time with the Blue Jays,” Bluebirdbanter.com, September 26, 2014, https://www.bluebirdbanter.com/2014/9/26/6850425/scott-rolens-blissful-time-with-the-blue-jays, accessed April 8, 2019.

31 John Fay, “Reds Veteran Rolen is Model Role Model,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 26, 2010.

32 Jordan Guskey, “Former 7-Time MLB All-Star Scott Rolen Named IU Baseball’s Director of Player Development,” Indianapolis Star, July 18, 2018.

33 Verducci, “He’s the Perfect Player.”