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Monday, January 09, 2012

Larkin deserving Hall of Famer

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Michigan
Congratulations are in order to Barry Larkin on the announcement of him being elected to enter Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame, receiving 86.4% of the votes, well surpassing the necessary 75%. The induction ceremony will take place on Sunday, July 22 in Cooperstown, New York.

The Cincinnati, Ohio native played 19 seasons in the big-leagues, all for his hometown Reds. He was a career .295/.371/.444 hitter, was selected to participate in 12 all-star games and won three Gold Gloves and nine Silver Slugger awards. Larkin was the catalyst for the World Champion Reds in 1990 when they swept the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in the World Series. He won the National League MVP award in 1995, and the following season became the first shortstop to accomplish a 30-30 season.

During the early part of his career, many contended that Larkin would have started a few more all-star games and would have won a handful more Gold Glove awards had Ozzie Smith's career not overlapped his own. The Wizard of Oz won the Gold Glove every year from 1986 through 1992, and was also named to the all-star game every year during the same time.

An excellent all-around athlete, Larkin was drafted out of the second round by the Reds in the 1982 draft. He decided to play for Bo Schembechler at Michigan as an All-American defensive back. Larkin never played a football game for the Wolverines, instead enjoying immediate success in baseball after red-shirting from the gridiron his freshman year.

That year (1983) he was named the Big Ten tournament MVP, and carried Michigan to two consecutive trips to the College World Series in 1983 and 1984 (no other Big Ten team has been to Omaha since). He was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and an All-American in both 1984 and 1985. His success in college led to him being inducted in the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.

While he didn't miss a game during his college career, pretty much the only critique on his big-league career was his inability to stay consistently healthy. After being taken with the fourth overall pick in arguably the most memorable first round in the history of the draft (B.J. Surhoff, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Will Clark are the among the most notable that were drafted in the first round that year), Larkin made his MLB debut the following season, but only played more than 140 games in seven of his 19 years. Four of those years he played less than 100.

Larkin was a very capable defender at a premium position, posting a career fielding percentage of .975 with excellent range and a strong arm, making both the highlight reel and routine plays look easy.

I do have to pose the question to the voters, what is the difference between a first, second, third (etc.) ballot Hall of Famer? In my mind, either a player belongs in the Hall of Fame or he doesn't. There shouldn't be any kind of perceived value by making a player wait a year or more to get in. The only instance in which the timing of a player's induction should be affected is if there are two to three (or more) other players that are more obvious selections to be enshrined.

Because of that, Larkin should have already been in, two years ago when he first became eligible to be voted in. His numbers alone speak to the type of player he was, and when you factor in his leadership skills and the professional manner in which he carried himself both on and off the field, he not only was one of the best shortstops to play the game, but one of the best overall players.

Right-handed pitcher Jack Morris missed the cut receiving over 66% of the votes, while Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, Fred McGriff, Alan Trammell, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy and Rafael Palmeiro also did not receive the required 75% of the votes for enshrinement. It's safe to say that McGwire and Palmeiro will have difficulty being enshrined given their involvement with PEDs, and the lack of support for Jeff Bagwell may suggest suspicion of his own involvement.

Morris, Smith and Raines would all receive a vote from me if I had one, especially with recent elections of Jim Rice, Andrew Dawson and Bert Blyleven. All three of them would be for the total body of work, even if Morris fell short of the magical 300-win mark. The same could be said for Raines and the 3,000 hit milestone, who was still productive although not nearly as dynamic later in his career as he was from the early 80s through the early 90s.

While the closer role has changed dramatically in the last 20-30 years, Lee Smith served somewhat of a bridge between the three-inning stoppers like Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter and the one-inning closers like himself and Dennis Eckersley. When he retired after the 1997 season Lee was the all-time leader in saves with 478, recently surpassed by both Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Both pitchers are considered locks to make the Hall, and no other active player is even close to approaching that mark. Although it didn't help that Lee played with eight different teams during his 18 year career.

I would probably give Alan Trammell a vote as well. While he's not as obvious of a case as Larkin, the fact that he played shortstop for 20 years while hitting .285/.352/.415 is almost reason enough.

While not eligible to be voted in for the writers, Ted Simmons needs to be placed by the veteran's committee. You don't have to look very hard or for very long to find a solid case for his Hall of Fame inclusion.
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