Scott Rolen has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, sneaking over the threshold by the narrowest of margins.
Rolen, one of the game's great third basemen, was named on 76.3% of ballots cast in his sixth year of eligibility to earn enshrinement. Just missing was former Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who received support on 72.2% of ballots in his fifth try at election.
Along with Helton, none of the other 27 players listed on the 2023 ballot cleared the 75% minimum for election.
Players can appear on the ballot for 10 seasons after a five-year waiting period after their retirement, provided they are named on at least 5% of the ballots during a voting cycle.
"You don't think about this," Rolen said on MLB Network. "You think about trying to do the best you can, play for your team and play the game as best you can, and there's such a long road. I never thought that the Hall of Fame was going to be the answer."
Rolen was a seven-time All-Star during his 17-year career with the Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds. His eight Gold Gloves are fourth most for a third baseman. The 1997 National League Rookie of the Year was a member of the Cardinals when they won the 2006 World Series.
Rolen, who ranks fifth in wins above replacement among career third basemen according to Baseball-Reference.com, was named on just 10.2% of ballots during his first year of eligibility in 2018 but rapidly gained support with each passing voting cycle.
When asked about his thoughts about his unusual path to Cooperstown, Rolen prefaced his comments with his typical dose of humility, saying, "There was actually never a point in my life when I thought I was going to be a Hall of Fame baseball player."
Still, in that first year of balloting, Rolen was just hoping to stay on the ballot, and when he cleared the 5% barrier, he told his young son, "We won."
Online tracking had Rolen and Helton above 75% all winter but close enough to make the outcome uncertain, as those figures often fall when final numbers are released because of ballots that aren't made public.
Rolen said he didn't track the trackers because he didn't have to: His family and friends kept him well informed, "blowing up" his phone every time there was a shift in the numbers.
One reason Rolen's case gathered momentum so quickly was because of his standing in advanced metrics.
Rolen, saying he didn't follow advanced numbers until being educated about them long after his retirement, benefited by the metrics' lofty ratings for him in defense and baserunning. That he shined in those areas wasn't a coincidence.
"I took pride in defense and baserunning," Rolen said. "Those were two aspects I could contribute daily on the field."
The same upward trajectory has held true for Helton, who started at 16.5% in 2019. A .316 career hitter over 17 seasons, all spent with the Rockies, Helton was a four-time Silver Slugger winner and a three-time Gold Glover for his work at first base.
Other players who were named on at least half of the ballots cast included Billy Wagner (68.1%), Andruw Jones (58.1%) and Gary Sheffield (55%).
Wagner, one of the most dominant relievers of his era, has gained support steadily. He earned support on 51% of ballots last year. Next year will be his ninth season of eligibility.
Rolen's narrow election -- he cleared the 75% barrier by just five votes -- means that the Baseball Writers' Association of America has still declined to elect any new members just nine times in the history of the balloting. The writers did not elect anyone in 2021, and last year, only Red Sox great David Ortiz was selected by the writers.
The three-year stretch in which the BBWAA has elected just two players matches a historical low. Since annual voting became permanent in 1966, the writers had never failed to elect at least two players during any three-year stretch. They also elected just two players during the three-year periods ending in 1968 and in each season from 1996 to 1998.
Ironically, the paucity of electees comes just a few years after a particular fecund period of voting by the writers. During the three-year period ending in 2019, the BBWAA elected 11 new Hall members; during the five-year period from 2015 to 2019, 17 new Hall of Famers were tabbed by the writers.
Unlike 2021, when no new Hall of Famers were elected by either the writers or an era committee -- the first time since 1960 that had happened -- there will be at least two new inductees giving a speech in Cooperstown during induction ceremonies on July 23. Soft-spoken Fred McGriff will enter the Hall alongside Rolen after being selected by an era committee at the winter meetings in December in San Diego.
"I thought he should have gotten in a long time ago," Rolen said about his Hall classmate, who retired after the 2004 season.
Progress was slow for a few more controversial candidates whose performance meets traditional Hall of Fame standards but have seen their cases undermined by associations with performance-enhancing drugs.
Alex Rodriguez, who ran up huge career totals of 3,115 hits, 696 homers and 2,086 RBIs, was named on 35.7% of the ballots during his second year of eligibility, up from 34.3%. Rodriguez missed the 2014 season under suspension for violation of MLB's PED policies.
Similarly, Manny Ramirez, who hit 555 homers while rolling up a .312 career batting average but was twice suspended for PED violations, made little progress during his seventh time on the ballot. After landing at 28.9% last year, Ramirez nudged ahead to 33.2% this time.
Conversely, Sheffield picked up a little momentum in his ninth year of eligibility. He was at 40.6% last year. Sheffield, who hit 509 homers but was named in 2007's Mitchell report, was never disciplined for PED use. Next season will be his 10th and final opportunity to gain election via the writers' ballot.
Among the 14 first-timers on the ballot, only two received the necessary 5% support to be carried over for consideration next time around.
One of those first-timers was Carlos Beltran, who landed on 46.5% of ballots. Beltran's Hall case is solid on the merits of a career that saw 435 homers, 312 steals, 2,725 hits and one of baseball's most sparkling postseason records.
Beltran was a central figure in the controversial sign-stealing scandal that tainted the 2017 World Series title of the Houston Astros, for whom Beltran played. His association with the controversy later led him to resign as manager of the New York Mets before his first season in that role.
While it's uncertain what role the scandal played in Beltran missing on his first ballot, his level of support bodes well for the future and, perhaps, for the candidacies down the line for other standouts on that Astros squad.
The other first-timer who will stay on the ballot is reliever Francisco Rodriguez, whose 437 saves were enough to get him onto 10.8% of ballots.
While the voters have been stingy in recent years, next year could see a more active induction week, with a number of interesting candidates becoming eligible. The list of newcomers is headed by third baseman Adrian Beltre, catcher Joe Mauer and second baseman Chase Utley.