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

3 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Barry Larkin”

  1. Career WAR at BB-Ref shows a bright line for the HOF:

    Top 20 WAR with 1000+ G at SS, retired

    Rk Player WAR/pos
    1 Honus Wagner 134.5 H
    2 George Davis 90.7 H
    3 Cal Ripken 89.9 H
    4 Robin Yount 76.9 H
    5 Bill Dahlen 75.9
    6 Arky Vaughan 75.6 H
    7 Luke Appling 69.3 H
    8 Barry Larkin 68.9
    9 Alan Trammell 66.9
    10 Pee Wee Reese 66.7 H
    11 Ozzie Smith 64.6 H
    12 Ernie Banks 64.4 H
    13 Joe Cronin 62.5 H
    14 Bobby Wallace 60.5 H
    15 Jack Glasscock 58.7
    16 Lou Boudreau 56.0 H
    17 Luis Aparicio 49.9 H
    18 Joe Tinker 49.2 H
    19 Joe Sewell 48.4 H
    20 Dave Bancroft 46.4 H

    With war credit Rizzuto easily joins this group, leaving only Maranville and T. Jackson as HOFers below this group.

    Dahlen, Trammell, Larkin and Glasscock were all easily elected to the Hall of Merit at Baseballthinkfactory.

  2. I don’t understand the WAR stats enough, but how can Ernie Banks be so low as a shortstop or even at all. His stats offensively were amazing in the years he played shortstop and he was a damn fine fielder than as well. Granted he cooled off in the latter half of his career, no longer having the devastating 40+ homer and 110+ rbi years, but even then he was still a dangerous hitter who did well and a fine fielding first baseman. Not to mention the one quality that no stat could measure, his joy of the game, the great spirit he brought to the clubhouse, the fans and the baseball community at large. I claim ignorance for sure on WAR, but man I think there is so much emphasis lost on stats alone, that we lose site of the human impact of a player. Case in point, Kaline, McCaovey, Cepeda, Mantle, Clemente and other injury plagued stars made a massive contribution to their teams by often being in the line-up when they were hurt. They lifted up their teams just by their presence and even when injured they put fear in the heart of the opposition. A hurt Kaline, could still swat the ball and would curb runners from trying anything on balls hit to right field, just because he was there. Mantle could swing with one arm and still be threat to break open a game. Willie Mays even when his career was on a downswing, could still lift the club with his base-running skills, fielding and on-field leadership. I don’t know if this was the case for Larkin or not, but I do remember him as a team leader, which should also count for something when evaluating a player. There are many other unmeasurable qualities that an athlete brings to a team. There are stats and then there is the measure of the man. Both need to be considered for the HOF, both make all the difference to winning and losing and athletic excelllence.

  3. alvy, Banks racked up 55.7 WAR as a SS, or 6.2 per season (6.9 if you don’t include 1953’s 39 PAs). That is historically great. Unfortunately, after his move to 1B, he put up only 8.7 WAR in the last 10 years of his career, or 0.9 per season – he was basically a replacement level player for a decade.
    He actually is pretty comparable to Nomar Garciaparra, if you look at their first 9 seasons:
    Nomar: 1330 Hits, 182 HR, 710 RBI, .322 BA, .370 OBP, .549 SLG, 132 OPS+, 41.5 WAR (caveat – higher offensive period, better hitting shortstops)
    Banks: 1335 Hits, 298 HR, 858 RBI, .290 BA, .353 OBP, .552 SLG, 138 OPS+ 55.7 WAR
    Of course, Nomar couldn’t stay healthy or extend his career like Ernie.

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