Scott Rolen made his mark in baseball in part with daring, bare-handed plays at third base that narrowly beat the runner to first.
On Tuesday night, he came out on top again, this time off the field, with another dramatic, close call.
The former star for the Phillies and Cardinals - who later played for the Blue Jays and Reds as well - was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by five votes, becoming the only player selected for induction this year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
It was enough to get him to 76.3% of the total votes and surpass the required 75% threshold.
Rolen will join Fred McGriff, who in December was elected unanimously by the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee, in being inducted in Cooperstown on July 23.
Other players among the 28 on the ballot – including 14 first-year candidates – came close enough to be confident of eventual induction.
Todd Helton fell 11 votes short and got 72.2% of the vote, and Billy Wagner got 68.1%. Both could make it next year, when the biggest name to join the eligibility list will be Adrian Beltre.
Former Met and Yankee Carlos Beltran got 46.5% of the vote in his first year on the ballot, likely hurt by his involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Alex Rodriguez got 35.7%, up slightly from 34.3% last year, clearly damaged by his history with performance-enhancing drugs.
But every player with modest vote totals can look to the case of Rolen, who in six years made a meteoric rise from his first year on the ballot, when he got 10.2% of the vote.
That is the lowest first-year ballot support for anyone who eventually made it into the Hall of Fame since annual voting returned in the late 1960s.
Rolen said on a video news conference with reporters that, initially, his goal was merely to clear 5% so he could stay on the ballot.
“There was actually never a point in my life when I thought I would be a Hall of Fame baseball player,” he said.
Voters came to appreciate Rolen for his fine all-around game in 17 major league seasons, during which he was known for his hitting, baserunning and defense.
Only 18 players who primarily were third basemen are in the Hall of Fame. Rolen established himself as one of the best ever to play the position.
From 1996-2012, he had 316 home runs, 1,287 RBIs and a .281 batting average, with a 70.1 WAR. He was the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year and a seven-time All-Star.
Mets fans recall him as the batter when Endy Chavez made a leaping catch over the outfield wall at Shea Stadium in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
“I’ve played there a bunch of times and I know I homered that ball, and he’s not anywhere near it,” Rolen said Tuesday night. “To see him flying from nowhere and making that catch . . . It was unbelievable.”
But the Cardinals went on to win that game and the World Series, with Rolen batting a team-high .421 against the Tigers.
In Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, Rolen’s two-run home run off the Astros’ Roger Clemens put the Cardinals ahead to stay in a 5-2 victory.
Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, said that he took particular pride in his defense.
Even though he acknowledged having a knack for making plays barehanded, he said he always tried to get his glove on the ball first.
Regarding his baserunning prowess, Rolen said on MLB Network, “That’s who you are . . . That is the character of who you are as a human being on that ballfield.”
Rolen had particularly productive seasons with both the Phillies and Cardinals. Asked what team’s cap he would want on his Hall plaque, Rolen demurred.
“That’s a hard one,” he said. “I am in a very good spot of not having any idea what that situation looks like.” He said he would follow the Hall’s guidance.
Wagner, a former Mets closer, was in his eighth year of candidacy. He would appear to have a reasonable shot at making it by his 10th and final year.
Beltran’s near-term prospects are not as clear. His stats warrant induction, but some figure to hold the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme, of which he was an alleged ringleader, against him.
Behind Rolen, Helton and Wagner, Andruw Jones got 58.1% of the vote and Gary Sheffield 55%.
Scott Rolen: 297 (76.3%)
Todd Helton: 281 (72.2%)
Billy Wagner: 265 (68.1%)
Andruw Jones: 226 (58.1%)
Gary Sheffield: 214 (55%)
Carlos Beltran: 181 (46.5%)
Jeff Kent: 181 (46.5%)
Alex Rodriguez: 139 (35.7%)
Manny Ramirez: 129 (33.2%)
Omar Vizquel: 76 (19.5%)
Andy Pettitte: 66 (17%)
Bobby Abreu: 60 (15.4%)
Jimmy Rollins: 50 (12.9%)
Mark Buehrle: 42 (10.8%)
Francisco Rodriguez: 42 (10.8%)
Torii Hunter: 27 (6.9%)
Bronson Arroyo: 1 (0.3%)
R.A. Dickey: 1 (0.3%)
John Lackey: 1 (0.3%)
Mike Napoli: 1 (0.3%)
Huston Street: 1 (0.3%)
Matt Cain: 0 (0%)
Jacoby Ellsbury: 0 (0%)
Andre Ethier: 0 (0%)
J.J. Hardy: 0 (0%)
Jhonny Peralta: 0 (0%)
Jered Weaver: 0 (0%)
Jayson Werth: 0 (0%)
75% needed for induction, 5% needed to remain on ballot the following year
ROLEN'S CAREER NUMBERS
HOME RUNS 316
BATTING AVG. .281
ROOKIE OF YEAR 1997
ALL-STAR GAMES 7
GOLD GLOVES 8