Barry Larkin is largely expected to answer a phone call Monday afternoon and hear from Jack O’Connell, Secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America, that he has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The BBWAA has voted at least one player into Cooperstown in every season since 1996, and Larkin has the best chance of anyone on the ballot this year.
However, that congratulatory phone call is not guaranteed. The long-time Cincinnati Reds shortstop must accumulate another 12.9% of the votes to jump from the 62.1% he garnered last year to the necessary 75% for induction, and the average percentage gained by the last twelve players inducted into the Hall of Fame (not in their first year of eligibility) once reaching the 60% threshold was only 10.8 — which would leave Larkin on the outside looking in for yet another season.
Even if Larkin does follow that trend, though, and only receives 72.9 percent of the vote this year, it seems inevitable that we will eventually be talking about Barry Larkin the Hall of Fame shortstop. And we should be.
The Cincinnati, Ohio native will always have his detractors. Some argue that he never possessed a standout tool that transformed him from a very good player to an historically elite player. Furthermore, throughout his career, which ranged from 1986 to 2004, he failed to rank in the Top 5 in WAR amongst positional players in any given season. That, once again, points to a very good player, not an elite player.
Despite those arguments, Barry Larkin is clearly a Hall of Fame caliber player. He is a 12-time All Star. He won the 1995 MVP in the National League. He was above-average defensively. In addition, of all retired shortstops not currently in the Hall of Fame, only Bill Dahlen possesses a better career WAR. Larkin has more career WAR (+70.6) than Ozzie Smith, Lou Boudreau, Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio, Bobby Wallace, Joe Sewell, Joe Tinker, and Dave Bancroft — who are all currently in the Hall of Fame.
Larkin was more than that, though. He transformed the way organizations drafted and evaluated shortstops, according to Ken Griffey Jr., who played with him for five years between 2000 and 2004. Griffey said:
“Teams started looking at shortstops with a little more power, guys there were bigger and stronger and more athletic than the typical shortstop. You used to get these short, little guys who would hit eighth and just slap at it. Barry changed all that and how teams draft. You don’t see shortstops who are 5-foot-6, 5-foot-8, and 160 pounds. These guys are 6-1 and 200 pounds. They’re not batting eighth. They’re batting 2-3-4-5.”
In 1996, Larkin became the first shortstop in history to reach the 30-30 club. That season included 33 home runs and 36 stolen bases that season. While he was not a perennial 20+ home run hitter, such as fellow Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, Larkin had a career .366 wOBA — better than the career numbers for Hall of Fame shortstops Banks, Pee Wee Reese, Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount, Dave Bancroft, and Bobby Wallace.
Let’s consider the following graph that compares the careers of Robin Yount — who was a no-doubt Hall of Famer and one of the select few elected on his first try — and Barry Larkin:
Outside of the one monstrous year for Yount, in which he compiled +10.5 WAR, the two players enjoyed similar production throughout their respective careers. Both had eight seasons worth at least four wins apiece. Both sustained long, productive careers in which they accumulated over +70 WAR with a single team.
The graph clearly illustrates Larkin was at least similar to Yount throughout his career, yet one is considered a clear Hall of Famer and one is still fighting to earn that honor.
Larkin does not have one show-stopping number. He does not have 500+ home runs like Ernie Banks, 3,000 hits like Yount, the record for most consecutive games started like Cal Ripken Jr., or 13 Gold Glove awards like Ozzie Smith. He does, however, possess the cumulative statistical resume to be worthy of a Hall of Fame induction.
Hopefully, on Monday afternoon, Barry Larkin will no longer be fighting for that Hall of Fame induction. Hopefully, he will simply be Barry Larkin, the Hall of Fame shortstop. He deserves it.
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