It gets lost in the shuffle sometimes just how important of a Cardinal Scott Rolen was. And with his career perhaps coming to a close this week, it’s a ripe time to take a look at why. Perhaps it’s because it ended on such a dismissive note that what he represented in St. Louis at such a high point in the franchise’s history.
How will he be remembered? Overall, he’ll stand up tall with the people that watch his era. Not to the statuesque level of Chipper Jones, but really, there’s not many, if any, that played the hot corner in the last 15 years that were any better than him. A seven-time All-Star, 1997 Rookie of the Year and owner of eight Gold Gloves. But it’s the glove that truly stands out, because with the exception of Brooks Robinson’s escapades on the hot corner, nobody has ever done it better. There are some that would say he ever surpassed Hoover in the glove game, a claim that could amount to blasphemy by some, but has some credence with many. But the ground that Rolen could cover while standing at 6’4″, and combined with one of the best infield arms ever, makes it valid.
But what is it about Rolen that makes him not be more revered as a Cardinal? Was it the silent, perhaps even standoffish way he went about his business? Dig a little deeper, because he has some legit claim to be in the discussion for greatest Cardinal third baseman ever. That’s a not too shabby group that includes Ken Boyer, Mike Shannon and Whitey Kurowski. After being acquired as at the trade deadline in 2002, he embarked on a remarkable six year run with the club. Among all third baseman in franchise history, he is second in second in home runs (111) and doubles (173) and fourth in RBI with 453 despite hitting behind Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds the majority of his time with the club and missing much of the 2005 season.
He returned in time to help the club rebound from that disappointing 2005 season. He played huge, and slightly forgotten, role in taking the club to its second World Series in 2006; one where he built up eight hits in 19 at-bats, including a home run and three triples. This was his crowning moment as a Cardinal, but soon shoulder injuries would keep him off the field for much of the rest of his time with the club. While he has gone on to have strong campaigns with the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds, his career truly peaked as a Cardinal, and reached a point where he showcased just how great he truly could be.
So what is it that keeps Rolen from being a more embraced member of the franchise’s history? He doesn’t really get an exceptional reception from fans when he returns, especially considering what he contributed to a very recent era. Perhaps it’s the way he faded away at the end, or that there was nothing of great lasting return received for him. Maybe it’s the feud with Tony LaRussa that kept him from relishing many returns with the club. Perhaps it’s his affiliation with the club’s fiercest rival the last few seasons in Cincinnati, that hasn’t allowed for many moments of reflection.
Whatever it may be, if his decision to decline coming to Spring Training with the Reds, a team he recently said is the only one he’d consider returning to this year, it’s time to embrace the man more in St. Louis. He’s a virtual baseball nomad by a career sense; he could never go back to Philadelphia to a warm reception, and he spent the shortest tenures of his career in Toronto and Cincinnati. St. Louis is where he deserves to come back to eventually, for the recognition an outstanding player of his level deserves. Maybe, with some time and reflection, both sides will learn how to properly place each other.