For Reds fans, there are four distinct dates which, consciously or otherwise, will forever influence and color the way he's thought of in future tributes.
1) October 3, 2002
2) July 31, 2009
3) June 28, 2010
4) October 9, 2012
Let's take these out of order. The most recent date is Game 3 of the 2012 Division Series against the Giants. Rolen's tenth-inning error wasn't necessarily the key to the game; the Reds may have gone on to lose the game and the series regardless. But the lasting image is one of a defensive miscue by one of the team's most sure-handed fielders. Rolen was acquired to be the dependable veteran who would lead the team to the postseason and steady the ship once it got there. Instead, in seven total playoff games as a Red, Rolen accumulated 4 errors and 12 strikeouts, hitting just .179 in the process. In one sense these were just a small collection of bad games that happened to occur at a very bad time. In neither situation, however, was Rolen playing all that well heading into the series. The playoffs were a direct extension of the preceding September. Rather than attach any particular narrative or meaning to this last sentence, we'll simply describe Rolen's post-season experiences as unfortunate.
Which brings us to October 3, 2002. Scott Rolen was a St. Louis Cardinal back then, and his team was matched up against the Diamondbacks in a Divisional Series. Pinch-runner Alex Cintron ran into Rolen on a groundball to third, damaging Rolen's shoulder and ending his season. While Rolen would remain very effective as a player thereafter, even yet to see his career year by this point, he would forever be subject to an elevated risk of injury, averaging just 114 games per season in the ten seasons to follow. Whether you care to tie this decade-old incident to Rolen's ongoing fragility, or just generally attribute it to lingering Cardinal-stank, the narrative of frequently resting Rolen so he would stay/get healthy was one that would not go away throughout his Cincinnati tenure. Which began on...
July 31, 2009 was that summer's trade deadline and the Reds pulled off a surprising deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only did the Reds have a young third baseman (who they swapped out in the trade), but both squads were looking up at double digit games-back shortfalls. Rolen was in the midst of a late-career revival, but hardly seemed like the key ingredient for a pitching-starved team like the Reds. The deal was not universally praised at the time, and from a strict accounting point of view, Cincinnati has lost this trade. Edwin Encarnacion has produced more bWAR than has Rolen since the trade, at roughly half the price, plus he's locked in for a few more years, contract-wise. It would not be inaccurate to point out that Encarnacion's value was likely enhanced by not playing third base anymore, but the trade has not been a slam dunk win by the Reds. Unless you jump forward to our last date of significance.
On June 28, 2010, the Reds beat the Phillies, 7 - 3, leaving the Reds a half-game up in the standings. While not the first time in the season the Reds had been in first place, there was an added air of legitimacy after this night since the team had largely struggled with the NL's best teams to that point in the year. Moreover, third baseman Scott Rolen led the way, hitting a 2-run home run as well as a run-scoring sacrifice fly. And, frankly, it sealed Rolen's legacy in Cincinnati. At night's end, roughly halfway through the Reds' most successful season in forever, Rolen had 17 homers and 53 RBI, all while playing the kind of hot corner defense which hadn't been seen in town in over two decades, at least. The trade was a winner, come what may. What came, as it happened, were just three more long balls and 30 RBI over the season's remainder, plus an ugly Division Series against those same Phillies. Depending on what you believe, Rolen may or may not have catalyzed a hungry but inexperienced team into a confident contender. I'll say this: I've never heard an ill word spoken of the man since he arrived.
Scheduled to turn 38 around Opening Day, 2013, and without a contract, Scott Rolen is a likely candidate to retire after 17 excellent big-league seasons, although no confirmation currently exists. If he does in fact retire, or if he is signed by another club, Rolen ends his Reds' career with a .263/.332/.438 line (104 OPS+). Over three years and two months, he played in 330 games, appearing only as a third baseman or a pinch-hitter. While he surpassed his 2000th career hit and his 300th home run as a Redleg, and collected his 8th Gold Glove award, he is generally seen as a long shot to be inducted as a member of baseball's Hall of Fame. Rolen debuts as a member of the Top 100 Honorable Mention list, ranking #215 in Reds history.