Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Fred McGriff played for six franchises, so many that his new Hall of Fame plaque has no logo on the lid. Scott Rolen represents the St. Louis Cardinals, but played for four teams in all.

“Derek, Chipper,” Rolen said from the Clark Sports Center stage on Sunday, “I’ll have to explain this to you later.”

Many of the big names sitting behind Rolen — including Derek Jeter, the former Yankees captain, and Chipper Jones, an Atlanta Braves mainstay — never changed teams. These players inspire the utmost fan loyalty and carry a kind of magnetic pull that compels people to follow the winding, winding roads to baseball’s sanctuary at Lake Otsego.

In that context, it was no surprise that this summer’s date was more intimate than usual. Neither McGriff nor Rolen spent more than five full seasons anywhere, and their ceremony drew an estimated 10,000 fans. Last year’s class, headlined by David Ortiz, the former Boston slugger, drew about 35,000.

But while McGriff and Rolen traveled extensively, they were also highly respected. Consistent production—in Canada and California, the Midwest, the Deep South, and the East Coast—kept demand and brought them to Cooperstown.

“My goal was simply to make it to the big leagues,” said McGriff, a ninth-round pick who went on to match Lou Gehrig’s 493 home runs, “and I exceeded every expectation I could have imagined — and then some.”

McGriff was cut from the varsity baseball team as a sophomore at Jefferson High in Tampa, Florida. 148 in his first professional summer, in 1981, and the Yankees traded him to Toronto as part of a package for Dale Murray, a veteran middle reliever, in December 1982.

Of all the manic moves in George Steinbrenner’s reckless 1980s, the McGriff deal hurt the Yankees the most. None of the other exile prospects who became stars – like Jay Buhner, Doug Drabek, Willie McGee and Jose Rijo – made it to Cooperstown.

“That little porch in right field probably would have been a beautiful thing to me,” said McGriff, referring to Yankee Stadium’s inviting conditions for left-handed hitters. But he did well at first base with Toronto, San Diego, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

McGriff’s speech cited several Hall of Famers who helped him along this winding path. He tried to hit like George Brett, the Kansas City hitting champion. Renowned executives Pat Gillick and John Schuerholz negotiated for him. Jones, as a rookie phenom in 1995, helped McGriff win a title with the Braves. Wade Boggs, a Tampa Bay teammate and a hitting expert, encouraged him to take a quick look at every pitch.

“I did,” said McGriff, “and it worked.”

Rolen, a third baseman, took a different approach to his speech. In the six months since his election, he said, he has thanked some of his biggest baseball influences by sending personal letters. On Sunday, he focused almost entirely on his family.

“It was a simple childhood with simple expectations and lessons,” said Rolen, who grew up in Jasper, Indiana, about 50 miles north of the Kentucky border. “Family first; we are loved; and always take the high road.”

He paused.

“And so I was drafted – and so began 20 years of high blood pressure and acid reflux that I would trade for nothing.”

The Phillies swept Rolen in the second round in June 1993, but he was committed to playing baseball and basketball at the University of Georgia. Before dropping out to turn pro, Rolen was part of the lineup for an Indiana/Kentucky All-Star basketball game at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. He felt unprepared and called his dad, Ed, for advice.

“Well, Dad,” Rolen said, “I can’t hold the ball, I can’t shoot, I’m completely out of basketball shape, and everyone in the entire gym — including the coach — is better than me.”

“OK,” replied Ed Rolen, and Scott was confused.

Ed Rolen echoed Scott’s words, listing all the reasons to be concerned. So, Ed asked, what he can You do? Scott guessed that he could hit, play defense, fight for loose balls, and beat the other players. Ed said it looked good.

“And here come the words of wisdom: ‘Well, do it then,’” Rolen said, pausing again as the crowd cheered. “It turns out that ‘Well, do this, then’ got me into the minor leagues and gave me a simple mindset: that I would never allow myself to be unprepared or overwhelmed. ‘Well do it then’ put me on this stage today.”

Once he internalized his father’s mantra, Rolen said, he never played to prove people wrong. Instead, he played simply to push himself, every day, and live with the results of that process.

In the end, he won eight Gold Gloves, hit 316 home runs, and won a championship in 2006 with the Cardinals, his first stop after the Phillies and before the Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds.

Now, finally, McGriff and Rolen have joined their everlasting team, the greatest of them all. They are Hall of Fame members.

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