If Phillies make change, now may be time to put Scott Rolen on Wall of Fame

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By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

With allegations surfacing this morning that Pete Rose initiated and maintained a sexual relationship with a girl that was under 16 in the 1970s, the Philadelphia Phillies have been put in an awkward situation. The team is unlikely to get a resolution on the truth of this allegation prior to their Aug. 12 matchup with the New York Mets, but you get the feeling a change needs to be made. With this allegation out there, whether it is true of untrue, now isn’t the time to honor Rose. 

If that change is made, it may give the Phillies a chance to instead honor another controversial former player – third baseman Scott Rolen. 

With all due respect to Jim Fregosi, Placido Polanco and Manny Trillo, among others, Rolen is the most deserving name left on what was a thin 2017 ballot. In fact, there’s not even a debate about whether Rolen was a better player during his tenure with the Phillies than Rose was. 

In parts of seven seasons with the Phillies, Rolen hit .282 with 150 home runs and 559 RBIs, while posting a WAR of 29.47 (per Baseball Reference). While with the Phillies, Rolen won the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year, made one All-Star appearance and won three Gold Glove Awards. Even if there wasn’t a debate about whether it was appropriate to honor Rose now, Rolen is deserving of Wall of Fame induction based off of his play. 

As Rafael Hermoso of The New York Post reminds us, it’s not that simple to Phillies fans. After the 2001 season, Rolen turned down a 10-year/$140 million contract to stay with the Phillies for the bulk of his career. He didn’t have a good relationship with then-manager Larry Bowa and with it clear that money couldn’t make up for how poor the team had been during Rolen’s time with the team, Ed Wade traded Rolen to the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 2002 non-waiver trade deadline. 

Rolen would go on to make six more All-Star teams, while winning a Silver Slugger Award, five more Gold Gloves and a World Series with the Cardinals in 2006. He wasn’t a particularly easy person to get along with at any of the stops in his career, but he has a serious case for the Hall of Fame. That case could have come with the Phillies, but instead Rolen, who would hit just .111 against the Phillies in his career, heard boos every time he returned to Philadelphia. In fact, Cole Hamels striking him out to end the 2010 NLDS is a favorite moment of many Phillies fans. 

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Here’s the thing, though: the Wall of Fame is supposed to be about putting together a collection of the best Phillies players ever. Rolen had a better Phillies’ career than any other option on the list. He had a better Phillies career than recent inductees Pat Burrell and Jim Thome, and many players likely to be inducted from the 2008 team. He left Philadelphia under somewhat similar circumstances to Curt Schilling, he shouldn’t be penalized for not having been a part of the 1993 team. 

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about how the Phillies Wall of Fame has become a sort of participation trophy, one that’s given to players who were part of a World Series team or otherwise left the city with fond memories. This would be a chance to begin to correct that. 

The guess here is that if a change is made, Rolen won’t be the one put up. As SportsTalkPhilly.com’s Frank Klose suggested, putting the late Jim Fregosi on the wall may make sense now, especially given the ongoing battle with cancer that his catcher, Darren Daulton, is in the midst of. If it’s about just not angering fans, Trillo or Polanco may be put on, though from here neither are deserving of induction. Replacing Rose with Rolen would allow the Phillies to place Rolen on the Wall of Fame without a season-long leadup to the event, which may be the best scenario. 

It is worth noting that the Phillies essentially cleared the ballot in 2017 to assure Rose was nominated. Roy Halladay and Brad Lidge, both of whom could have potentially given Rose a run-for-his-money in fan voting, weren’t placed on the ballot despite seemingly meeting all the eligibility requirements. In the coming years, both figure to gain induction, even though they to probably weren’t better Phillies for a sustained period than Rolen. Bobby Abreu is the speculative favorite to go up next year. And before you know it, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins and other 2008 players will be eligible for the ballot. 

There’s never going to be a perfect time for the Phillies to honor Rolen, but they appear to have been backed into the most perfect time they are going to get. 

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