Hall of Fame classmates Fred McGriff, Scott Rolen becoming friends forever in Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y — They were loved on by Wade Boggs, wined and dined by the Hall of Fame, played golf with family and friends, greeted by baseball legends, and finally, are getting to know one another, believing they’ll now be friends forever.

Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff, separated by 11 years in age, one raised in Jasper, Indiana and the other in Tampa, who played for a combined 10 different organizations – but never the same one – and played different infield positions, will always be linked together in baseball history.

They will be inducted together Sunday into the Hall of Fame.

The two spent 30 minutes Saturday reflecting on their careers, and the longer they talked, the more similarities in their personalities became apparent.

MCGRIFF IN COOPERSTOWN: Peers say 'Crime Dog' is the consummate Hall of Famer

They were quiet but forceful leaders, well-respected teammates and intense competitors who commanded the ultimate respect.

“I don't think it's hard to be a decent teammate," Rolen said. “You know, we just try to be ourselves and treat people well, respect the game, respect people and our opponents. And so as you go, you just kind of try to keep your eyes open, ears open, keep your mouth shut and see where it lands in the game and see how long you can stay in the game.

“Our job is to prepare, go out, and play the game and be accountable."

Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen speak during a roundtable on Saturday, the day before their Hall of Fame induction.
Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen speak during a roundtable on Saturday, the day before their Hall of Fame induction.

McGriff, drafted by the New York Yankees in 1981 but traded a year later to the Toronto Blue Jays, says veterans like Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby and George Bell helped shape his personality in baseball. He was taught lessons that he carried throughout his career.

“They taught you how to be a professional," McGriff said. “Go out there and play the game, play the game the right way. So that’s why I try to instill upon younger players. Play the game the right way. A lot of guys laugh, they’re on the bench talking all kinds of noise, and they don’t do nothing.

“Now, you got guys doing stuff just to get on social media. It’s a whole different game now.

Rolen: “What’s social media?"

Rolen and McGriff say they didn’t really know one another except for a few brief conversations on the field over the years, with McGriff’s career winding down as Rolen’s was emerging in Philadelphia. The two combined for 12 All-Star Game appearances, but never played in the same game.

“I was always enamored by him, just how strong he was," Rolen said. “I'd get to first base and be scared to death whether he’d talk to me."

The two have have been welcomed lovingly into their new fraternity. McGriff and Dave Winfield shared two hours together during lunch one day, and Rolen and Jim Thome spent time reminiscing on the Otesaga Resort veranda.

And oh, Boggs showed them both some affection.

“I'm probably going to get in trouble," McGriff said, “but Wade gave me like a serious hug. And Wade wanted to kiss me."

Rolen: “Hey, Wade kissed me, too."

The two grabbed lunch at the hotel Saturday and then talked to reporters one last time before delivering their speeches Sunday afternoon (1:30 p.m., ET, MLB Network). McGriff will bat leadoff, an unfamiliar spot for the powerful first baseman.

“I want to get it over first," McGriff says, “so then I can relax and watch Scott sweat."

Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, says he can thank the voters using analytics for getting him into the Hall of Fame after being ignored in his early years on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. McGriff knows it was his own peers on the Contemporary Era ballot committee responsible for his election.

In a few years, they believe, a few of their old teammates may be joining them too.

McGriff lobbied for Gary Sheffield, his former San Diego Padres’ teammate, calling him one of the most feared hitters in the game. Sheffield has one more year remaining on the BBWAA ballot, and then will be eligible to be placed on the Contemporary Era committee ballot if he’s not elected.

Rolen says he still has hope for former Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu, but he’s got a suspicion that one of his St. Louis Cardinals teammates will join him.

“Albert Pujols," Rolen joked. “I think he’s got a chance."

The two played off one another delightfully the entire afternoon, with McGriff talking about former Atlanta teammate Deion Sanders’ bravado and wondering how may homers he could hit to the Yankees’ short porch in right field, to Rolen talking about the fear of facing Randy Johnson, trembling just looking at his art exhibit on Friday night.

Now, Sunday afternoon, they will be officially welcomed together into baseball’s greatest and most prestigious fraternity.

“For me to sit here and say ‘Yeah, me and Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron,'" Rolen said last week, “that’s not a real situation. These guys are true legends, and I get a chance to share that gallery with them. I’m greatly honored.”

Says McGriff: “You dream of playing in the major leagues, but to be in the Hall of Fame, you know, it’s still so hard to believe."

Together and forever.

“Our families are linked forever at this point," Rolen said, “which is great."

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2023 Hall of Famers Fred McGriff, Scott Rolen become 'forever' friends