The Baseball Hall of Fame announcement Tuesday was a celebration of third base, and it could be more of the same in 2024.
Former Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds star Scott Rolen was officially announced as a Hall of Famer through a vote by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America and will be enshrined at Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 23.
And while it might be a bit early to look ahead at the 2024 Hall of Fame class, before Rolen has even had a chance to work on his acceptance speech, there is no denying that a theme could be developing.
Rolen became the 18th third baseman inducted and a 19th might be on the way in 2024 when former Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers standout Adrian Beltre hits the ballot for the first time. Another first-timer on next year's ballot is former New York Mets third baseman David Wright.
Comparing Rolen to Beltre, each valued defense, although Rolen earned eight Gold Glove Awards while Beltre earned five. Beltre hit 477 home runs compared to Rolen's 316. Beltre finished in the top 10 of MVP voting six times while Rolen did it once.
"(Defense) affects your team immediately," Rolen said on the MLB Network broadcast immediately after learning of his induction. "It affects your pitcher, it affects your team, you save runs. ... I believe in infield defense, I love it, so I really took a lot of pride in defense."
Rolen will join former Atlanta Braves first baseman Fred McGriff as a member of the Hall Class of 2023 after McGriff was named by the contemporary baseball era committee in December.
Looking past this summer's speeches and celebrations, an eclectic group of new inductees and holdovers could be set to create the BBWAA's largest class since it voted in four players in 2019.
Longtime Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton just missed induction this year, while longtime Houston Astros left-hander Billy Wagner also inched closer. Helton received 72.2 percent of the vote, while Wagner was at 68.1 percent. They both are expected to break through the required 75 percent threshold next year.
A worthy 2024 class could include Helton, Wagner, Beltre and center fielder Andruw Jones, who played 17 seasons and had a run of 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards as a member of the Atlanta Braves from 1998-2007. Jones was named Tuesday on 58.1 percent of the ballots.
Aside from Beltre and Wright, also making their ballot debut in 2024 will be six-time All-Star Jose Bautista, 21-year veteran Bartolo Colon, five-time Silver Slugger Joe Mauer and eight-time playoff participant Chase Utley. Like Beltre, Mauer and Utley have a chance to push toward first-time ballot-inductee status.
While there was no first-ballot inductee this year, there have been 14 in the past 10 years, including David Ortiz in 2022 and Derek Jeter in 2020. Six of those 14 first-time ballot inductees came from two votes in 2014 and 2015.
Players in the 2014 class included Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas, while the 2015 class included Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Other recent first-ballot inductees: Mariano Rivera (2019), Roy Halladay (2019), Chipper Jones (2018), Jim Thome (2018), Ivan Rodriguez (2017) and Ken Griffey Jr. (2016).
As interesting as who might make future Hall of Fame classes are the players who didn't find the voting process to be all that welcoming. Ties to gambling kept Pete Rose off the Hall of Fame ballot, while the Steroid Era has prevented the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez from enshrinement.
The latest bit of baseball malfeasance where judgement is coming to pass is the Houston Astros' 2017 cheating scandal. A major player in that sordid affair was Carlos Beltran, who played the last of his 20 seasons with the 2017 World Series champion Astros.
Beltran's role in the sign-stealing affair already has cost him a chance to manage the New York Mets, but it might not damage his Hall of Fame prospects. Beltran was named on 46.5 percent of Hall ballots, the best of this year's first-timers.
Beltran can take comfort in the fact that Rolen received 10.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 2018 before going to 17.2 percent, 35.3 percent, 52.9 percent and 63.2 percent in subsequent years before reaching 76.3 percent this year.
Then there is always the contemporary era committee, which elected McGriff to this year's class, but that group has not been kind to Hall prospects such as Bonds, Clemens and even Curt Schilling, who said he would rather be judged by his peers than the writers. It hasn't helped his cause.
The contemporary era committee is the last available path to enshrinement for longtime second baseman Jeff Kent, who now will fall off the writers' ballot after receiving 46.5 percent of the latest vote.
--Doug Padilla, Field Level Media