Rolen not retired but unlikely to play again
Seven-time All-Star navigates transition between baseball and life without it
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Scott Rolen hasn't bothered to file the paperwork that would officially make him a retired player. He doesn't use that description, either, preferring to present himself as simply inactive at the moment. It's as if he is merely on hiatus from a 17-year career that has included seven All-Star selections, 316 home runs and eight Gold Gloves.
As Rolen stood in front of the home dugout at Bright House Field before the Blue Jays-Phillies Grapefruit League game, it was not hard to imagine him stepping into the cage and taking a few swings. He still works out and is both fit and trim.
Don't hold your breath, even though he ritually refuses to close any doors.
Wednesday was the first time Rolen had set foot on a big league field since the Reds were eliminated from the postseason in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. He struck out with the tying runs on base to end it, and the victorious Giants went on to win the World Series. Since then he has stayed mostly out of sight, though not totally out of mind. Before last season he was offered playing contracts by the Reds and the Dodgers, which he declined.
He is still just 38, but shoulder and back problems could still be an issue. Daughter Raine is 9, and son Finn is 6. They like having daddy around. The family splits time between homes in Indiana and Florida.
That Rolen's re-emergence into the baseball world came in Phillies camp is, if nothing else, an interesting coincidence. He played in the World Series twice with the Cardinals, earning a ring in 2006. He went to the playoffs twice with the Reds. He played two years in Toronto, making a point on Wednesday of saying hello to Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
But it was the Phillies who signed and developed him. He won the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year Award in red pinstripes. He played longer with that organization than any other, but the end was hardly amicable. He made it clear, when he became eligible for free agency, that he would not re-up. He butted heads with then-Phillies manager Larry Bowa. He openly questioned the team's financial commitment to winning. The fans turned on him even though, oddly enough, many of his concerns matched their own. He was traded to St. Louis in 2002.
Bowa was among those who came over to embrace Rolen on Wednesday, along with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley and Marlon Byrd.
Issues that seemed important then may not carry the weight they once did. "I think you can look at a ton of things in your life and see if you would have handled things the same," Rolen said. "But it seemed important at the time. And you know what? At the time it was important.
"So that's what should have happened. If you're trying to do the right thing and you're principled and driven and trying to make the right decisions, then you back those decisions up. Fifteen, 20 years later, would you have made those life decisions? Well, no, because you're 38, 39, 40 years old. You're not 20. That's a pretty big gap. I don't want to say regret or anything. Everything kind of worked out as well as it could have and should have; I guess I kind of feel like we're all in the place we should be."
Rolen acknowledges he has not quite figured out what will replace baseball in his life. He plays golf. He works with his charity, the Enis Furley Foundation, which is named after his dog and dedicated to supporting sick children and their families. He helps Indiana University basketball and baseball and coaches his kids.
"I'll tell you what I miss," he said. "I miss the accountability. I miss having a job. I miss having a drive, a direction and being tired. I miss being miserable. That's one of the biggest adjustments.
"I have to look at a calendar and try to figure out what a calendar looks like. I've never done that before. You're told where to go, where to be, what to do and what your responsibilities are. You put in so many hours of work doing one thing, and then you're not doing it anymore; you have to fill that space a little bit. I'm a driven person, and you can't drive 100 miles per hour to the golf course."
Once the idea he is not coming back as a player begins to settle, the legacy questions can begin. He was the second-best pure third baseman the organization has ever had (Dick Allen played multiple positions), behind Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. So the Phillies Wall of Fame should be a given.
And the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is well within reach. Eleven third basemen are already enshrined there, and he fits comfortably into that group. His career OPS of .855, for example, was bettered by only George Brett (.857), Wade Boggs (.858), Eddie Mathews (.885) and Schmidt (.908). His baserunning and defense were top shelf. He may not be a slam dunk but certainly merits serious consideration.
And Rolen does not even have to be retired to be considered. He can go on the ballot once five years have passed since his final game.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.