Fred McGriff, Scott Rolen: Two Ordinary, Hardworking Guys Who Achieved Immortality

Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen on stage with their plaques at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony
(Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay) Right Image: COOPERSTOWN, NY (Jul 23) — Hall of Fame inductee Scott Rolen (right) listens to Commissioner Rob Manfred (not pictured) read the inscription on his plaque with Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch (holding plaque) and other members of the Hall. (Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

Fred McGriff, Scott Rolen — Ordinary, Hardworking Guys — Inducted into Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOWN, NY (Jul 23) — The Hall of Fame Class of 2023, Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen, gave their speeches Sunday in the induction ceremony. Both were humble and from the heart, making the room get dusty at the end.

McGriff, with his trademark ear-to-ear grin, shook hands with what seemed like half the legends assembled on stage as he entered. He opened his 18-minute speech with a host of thank yous before saying, “It’s hard to put today’s induction into perspective.” He called it baseball’s greatest honor and “icing on the cake,” because, “You see, my goal was simply to make it to the big leagues. And I exceeded every expectation I could ever imagine and then some. It was a great feeling, getting recognized for your hard work. And now to have a plaque forever hanging in the National Baseball Hall of Fame — it’s unbelievable.”

Rolen opened his 16-minute speech with thank-yous as well, his voice quivering when he thanked his wife. He thanked his parents, both in attendance, and told about how special it was to see them take their seats before he played his first-ever major league game on August 1, 1996. Rolen harkened back to his upbringing in Jasper, Indiana, a “value-driven, hardworking, supportive community.” He dreamed of being a Major League Baseball player, but Rolen said he was not raised to be one. Instead, he was raised to be “honest, to work hard, to be accountable for my words and actions, and to treat people with kindness and respect.” He was not taught in “today’s terminology of exit velocity, launch angle, or spin rate,” but “please, thank you, excuse me, and I’m sorry.”

Lessons Learned

Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen at the post-induction press conference
COOPERSTOWN, NY (Jul 24) — 2023 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Scott Rolen (right) answers a question during the post-induction press conference as fellow inductee Fred McGriff (left) listens. (Photo by Evan Thompson/Sport Relay)

McGriff described his ballplaying days as a kid in west Tampa, Florida. He “couldn’t help but love baseball” since he was “always around it.” Living about a mile from his little league park, he and his friends “spent a lot of time playing ball there” at the Boys and Girls Club. “We just picked teams and played,” he said, “(and) we all got along. It didn’t matter where you were from.” They knew it was time to go home when the lights came on.

His sophomore year, he entered Tampa’s Jefferson High School. They did not have JV baseball, only varsity. McGriff had only been a pitcher or first baseman. The team had a senior first baseman who was good. Consequently, McGriff figured he could only make the team if he tried out as an outfielder. He was disappointed to see his name missing from the list the coach posted outside the locker room of those who made the team. When he next saw his coach, who was his driver’s ed teacher, the coach — “Pops” — told him to “keep working hard and get stronger.”

“I could have quit playing baseball,” McGriff said. “Instead, it motivated me.” He started riding his bike three miles each way to the gym, growing stronger while continuing to play well. “The next year,” McGriff grinned, “I tried out again, and I made the team. But to this day, I know they still tease Pops about cutting me in the tenth grade.”

A “Simple Childhood”

Rolen was a multisport athlete who wrestled, ran track, played basketball, baseball, football, and tennis “in an organized fashion,” as he put it Saturday in a press conference. Unlike McGriff, who played baseball for hours with other neighborhood kids, Rolen spent hours in the backyard throwing a ball up and hitting it as far as he could; winters and evenings throwing a tennis ball against the stairs. He described his upbringing as a “simple childhood with simple expectations and lessons. Family first, we are loved, and always take the high road.

“And then I got drafted,” he said, “and so began 20 years of hypertension and acid reflux.”

“Do That Then”

Often people have asked him how he got where he is and what the secret is. His answer came from a lesson his dad taught him that was related to basketball and not baseball.

Rolen was selected to the Indiana (High School) All-Star basketball team, which plays a two-game series against the Kentucky All-Stars every year at the end of summer. He had already been drafted by the Phillies and had spent the summer playing baseball.

 

I had not picked up a basketball for two months. We had a three-day minicamp with two practices per day in Lafayette. After Day One, I told Dad that I had a minor problem. He was camping up there, of course, and I said Dad, I have a minor problem that I need advice with. And his answer?

Okay.

Well, Dad, I can’t handle the ball. I can’t shoot. I’m completely out of basketball shape. And everybody in the entire gym, including the coach, is better than me. And his answer?

Okay.

What do you mean?

Okay. Well, what are you going to do, Scotty?

Well, that’s what I’m asking you, Dad.

Well, how do I know? You say you can’t dribble, you can’t shoot. You’re out of shape. And you’re completely overmatched. You told me what you can’t do? What can you do?

I guess I can rebound.

Okay.

I can play defense.

Okay.

I can dive for loose balls. Doesn’t appear that the guys are playing too hard up here. I could outhustle, outwork, and beat everybody up and down the floor.

Okay.

And then here came the words of wisdom.

Well…do that, then.

A Simple Mindset That Went Far

Rolen adopted “do that, then” as a mindset. He would never allow himself to be unprepared or outworked. “‘Well, do that, then’ put me on this stage today,” Rolen declared. He then put it into a practical life lesson for everyone assembled.

 

I think right now I’m speaking to my son and my daughter, and maybe your son and your daughter, about effort. If you walk through the plaque gallery at the Hall, you will be blown away by baseball greatness. Baseball greatness is sitting behind me. Every person has their story, and they told it right here. These stories are not all the same. But I’m not standing here today from my baseball greatness. Nor have I played with one day in my life to prove anybody wrong. I’m standing here today made baseball-wise from a basketball lesson Dad walked me through in 1993 to “do that, then.”

I now know this phrase is an intentional mindset that effort never takes a day off. I believe in putting in the quantity to know what quality is. I believe in the process, I believe in the approach, I believe in the work, and I’m forever grateful for this advice. Well, Dad, I did that, then.

Inspiring Conclusions

McGriff ended by encouraging those assembled. “We stand on the stage with some of the greatest players to ever play this game,” he proclaimed. “Honestly, I would have been happy just playing one day in the big leagues. This means a lot to me. So I encourage you, whatever your dream is, to never give up. Always remember to stay true to who you are. There will be fires along the way. But those fires can ignite the spark for the next season of your life.”

Rolen expressed a message of gratitude and thanks. “In baseball, I am a Jasper Wildcat. I am an Indiana Bull; I am a Philadelphia Phillie; I am a St. Louis Cardinal; I am a Toronto Blue Jay; I am a Cincinnati Red. And today, because of all your support, I’m a National Baseball Hall of Famer. In life, I am a friend; I am a brother; I am a son; I am a husband; and I am the greatest gift — a father.” He listed off his family members present by name, ending with “Dad, Mom — thank you.”

McGriff and Rolen — Normal Guys, Deserving Hall of Famers

What we saw on the stage were two humble, gracious men who had nothing more than a dream of playing Major League Baseball. Two guys who worked and worked to achieve their dreams. McGriff met his wife while they both worked at Burger King. Rolen always found his mom in the stands before every game she attended. They’re ordinary people like the rest of us. But they worked to achieve their dreams, and now — deservedly so — they’re forever enshrined with the greatest to ever play the game.

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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