Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Barry Larkin

Claim to fame: The shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds from 1986 to 2004, Larkin was a 12-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, and the 1995 National League MVP. In January, Larkin appeared for the second time on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s ballot for the Hall of Fame and received 62.1 percent of the vote– less than the 75 percent he needed to get in but a sizable improvement from the 51.6 percent he received in 2010. With Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar to be enshrined via the writers this summer, Larkin looks like one of their logical next inductees in 2012.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Larkin has a maximum of 13 more years of eligibility remaining. If he’s not ultimately enshrined, whether by the writers or the Veterans Committee, Larkin would have a dubious first: In 75 years of Hall of Fame voting, no player who’s received more than 50 percent of the BBWAA vote in his second year of eligibility has failed to earn an eventual spot in the Hall of Fame. Others who’ve followed this path, like Roy Campanella, Juan Marichal, and Ryne Sandberg got into the Hall of Fame by their fifth year on the ballot. Larkin seems a certain pick for Cooperstown. Whether this is deserved or not is another question.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? It depends on one’s criteria. For those who see Cooperstown as strictly a place for the Babe Ruths, Ty Cobbs, and Hank Aarons of baseball, Larkin doesn’t come close. He’s too flawed a candidate by that measure, too mortal, someone with few healthy seasons (just four seasons with more than 150 games) and several borderline Hall of Fame stats from his .295 batting average to his 116 OPS+ to his 68.9 WAR. One might even call Larkin overrated, a player who wouldn’t be anywhere close to Cooperstown had he put up the same hitting numbers as a center fielder.

All that being said, Larkin would be far from the worst shortstop in the Hall of Fame, and I wouldn’t be against enshrining him. Larkin might not be on par with Honus Wagner or Cal Ripken Jr or Alex Rodriguez, but lists Larkin having a better career WAR than 14 shortstops in Cooperstown:

  • Luis Aparicio
  • Dave Bancroft
  • Ernie Banks
  • Lou Boudreau
  • Travis Jackson
  • Hughie Jennings
  • Rabbit Maranville
  • Pee Wee Reese
  • Phil Rizzuto
  • Joe Sewell
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Joe Tinker
  • Bobby Wallace
  • George Wright

The only inactive shortstop with a better career WAR than Larkin who isn’t in the Hall of Fame is Bill Dahlen, a solid, if not great Deadball Era shortstop who played in Wagner’s shadow and spent 21 years in the majors, all told. In 2006, my colleague Cyril Morong called Dahlen the best eligible player not in the Hall of Fame. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cyril and Dahlen’s other champions decry when Larkin is inducted. Same goes for Vizquel or Alan Trammell or Dave Concepcion who had a distressingly strong showing with the Veterans Committee in December. Then and now, image is everything for a shortstop to get into the Hall of Fame.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al OliverAlbert BelleBert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Cecil TravisChipper JonesDan QuisenberryDave ParkerDon Mattingly, Don NewcombeGeorge Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Jack MorrisJoe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Larry WalkerMaury WillsMel HarderPete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito, Ron Guidry, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons, Thurman MunsonTim Raines, Will Clark