As part of our inaugural TWWGC series, we have chosen 11 players eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame that deserve extra analysis on their candidacy.
Before we go into our first nominee, let me clarify what I consider to be necessary qualifications for enshrinement into the Hall. In order for a player to get in, they need some, but not all, of the following criteria.
-The best at their position when they played
-All-around excellence on the field
-If a player had a weakness, they needed to have one specific skill that not only made up for their deficiency, but made them dominant
-Sustained success with a dominant apex
Again, there may be some on this list that hit all of these qualifications, while others may only hit one or two. Each player is different and needs to be considered differently. However, whenever I try to envision who deserves to be in the Hall, I keep all of these guidelines in mind. The Baseball Hall of Fame is easily the most difficult of the Halls, no question. Not everybody deserves to be in. Just because you were good for a period of time, that isn’t good enough for me. So, let’s get this started…
Our first nominee is former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. This will be Larkin’s 3rd time appearing on the HOF ballot. Last year, Larkin appeared on 62.1 percent of the ballots, or just 75 votes shy of enshrinement.
As a 22-year old, I understand that as a generation, we are very spoiled when it comes to offensive production from the shortstop position. We’ve grown up watching stars like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra, who established a new precedence for production from that position. More recently, we’ve witnessed the dynamic threats players like Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Elvis Andrus provide.
Historically speaking, though, shortstop is by no means a power position offensively. Of all the shortstops that have appeared in a Major League Baseball line-up since 1975, three have been elected into Cooperstown. Of those three, two (Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr.) ended their careers having to play a different position. Only “The Wizard” Ozzie Smith has started his career as a shortstop and ended his career in the same position while being elected into the Hall in the last 35 years.
Barry Larkin ushered in the era of offensive shortstops. Remember, before Alex Rodriguez went bonkers while with the Texas Rangers, the single-season record for home runs by a shortstop was held by the immortal Rich Aurilia. Not only did Larkin play shortstop each year during his lengthy 19-year career, but he was elected to 12 All-Star games, 9 Silver Sluggers and was National League MVP in 1995.
Larkin was truly a five-tool athlete. In 1995, Larkin hit .319/.394/.492 with 15 home runs, 66 runs batted in, stole 51 bases while being caught only five times, drew 61 walks against his 49 strike outs and scored 98 runs. The next year, Larkin arguably posted a better season, posting a triple-slash of .298/.410/.567 with 33 home runs, 89 runs batted in, 36 stolen bases (was the first shortstop ever to post a 30/30 season) and drew 96 walks.
Larkin had the speed, power and patience, no question. But, people also don’t give him as much credit as he deserves defensively. He was a premier defensive shortstop. Look, Ozzie Smith may have been the greatest defensive shortstop of all-time, so there is nobody arguing that he shouldn’t have won every Gold Glove from 1980-1991. Larkin, finally with an opportunity to shine, won 3 of his own from 1994-96. Then, some guy named Rey Ordonez turned heads playing short in New York and dazzled from 97-99. Had Larkin played in the American League, he could’ve won 5-6 more Gold Gloves.
I’ve called Larkin a five-tool athlete. If there was one tool he did lack, however, it was durability. In his 19-years in Cincinnati, only four times did Larkin appear in at least 150 games. Had Larkin been a healthy player his entire career, I don’t think there is any question that he would’ve been a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Is it fair to judge a player on their ability to stay healthy? Fair or unfair, it does contribute to what they have to offer as a player. However, Larkin’s health didn’t prohibit him from being great or take away from his game. So, that being his only negative in a long, successful career is not necessarily the end of the world.
For his career, Larkin hit .295/.371/.444. It is worth repeating that he was the first shortstop in baseball history to post a 30-home run/30 stolen base season. He stole 379 bases total in his career, with a career success rate of 83%. So, not only did Larkin have world class speed, but he had the game knowledge of when to use it.
As mentioned before, there are only three other shortstops voted in the last 35 years. Ozzie Smith is arguably the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of the game. Cal Ripken Jr. is the game’s Iron Man and had over 3,000 career hits. Robin Yount also had over 3,000 hits and 2 MVPs to his credit.
Before Barry Larkin, shortstop was a position where any offense generated from it was a plus, but defense was the premium. Not only did Larkin provide Gold Glove defense, he helped reinvent the position offensively. There aren’t many players in the history of the game that can say they changed how their position was played.
Barry Larkin can.
Barry Larkin: Hall of Famer