Joining Ron Santo in the 2012 Baseball Hall of Fame class, Barry Larkin is enshrined forever in Cooperstown after a nineteen-year career that spanned from 1986-2004. During that time, he helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series, became the first ever shortstop to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season, and played his entire career in a Cincinnati Reds uniform. As a hitter, he regularly walked more than he struck out, and in the field was a capable shortstop.
Statistically, as far as shortstops go, he stacks up pretty well against his Hall-of-Fame counterparts, with a career line of .295/.371/.444 for an above average OPS of .815 of in over 9000 plate appearances. He did not reach any of the major milestones that many Hall of Famers have, such as 3000 hits, but he did hit 198 home runs (an excellent number for a shortstop) and racked up 379 stolen bases. It's also likely that if he had not missed significant parts of several seasons that his numbers would have finished considerably closer to many of his now peers in the Hall of Fame such as Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith.
Larkin Compared to His Hall of Fame Peers
While Larkin's traditional counting statistic totals of hits, home runs, RBI and stolen bases aren't nearly as “sexy” as those of his Hall of Fame peers, especially those of Ernie Banks and Cal Ripken Jr. (although Cal played third for the last quarter of his career). Larkin’s numbers are certainly very respectable and notable for any ballplayer, especially one who played nearly two decades of Major League Baseball. Interestingly enough, however, he actually has a better career OPS than Cal Ripken (who has a .787 mark) and one very close to Ernie Banks (with a mar of .833). Yes, Banks hit over 500 home runs, and Cal certainly was a middle of the order power hitter. Larkin was a prototypical lead-off hitter, and with his high on-base skills and base-running abilities, he produced about the same as those two icons in a somewhat different way.
As far as saber-metric stats like WAR are concerned, Larkin racked up nearly 71 WAR during his 19-year career, a number very comparable to Ernie Banks’ 74 WAR or Ozzie Smith's 70. Ripken's WAR total is nearly 100, but he also played in more games than Larkin, hit for more power, and was actually an even slicker fielder (by current fielding metrics) than the career Cincinnati Red. From WAR totals alone, it's pretty clear that Larkin belongs in the Hall.
Barry Larkin Compared to the Other Candidates for the Class of 2012
Of those that didn't make the cut for the Hall of Fame induction this year, Jeff Bagwell probably should have joined Larkin. Long time workhorse pitcher Jack Morris was not far behind in voting, and nearly joined Barry in Cooperstown. Tim Raines, certainly one of the more underrated players of his time, earned enough votes for another shot at the Hall in 2013.
Barry Larkin was inducted along with the late Ron Santo, who was elected earlier in 2012 by the Veterans Committee. Of course, Santo passed away several years ago now, and many fans are upset that this honor came posthumously. There are many people on both sides of the argument on whether Santo should be in the Hall of Fame or not. While he wasn't known as a huge offensive player, he played in a pitcher's era and still hit 342 home runs and had a well above average OPS of .826, a number very similar to Larkin's. He also was, like Barry, a good, if not spectacular, defensive infielder (although shortstop is certainly a tougher position to field than third base.) So if Larkin made it into the Hall, Santo certainly deserves to be there, as well.
Looking Ahead to the Class of 2013
Barry Larkin's Hall of Fame induction was certainly not a huge shock to anyone, as all of the other candidates had their fair share of doubters, besides Bagwell who may make it one day, simply on the strength of his domination as a hitter. However, Bagwell did play during the steroid era, and though by all accounts he was clean, he very well could end up being snubbed a spot in the Hall because of the cheating of his peers.
Bagwell, Jack Morris, and Tim Raines all have a lot of competition in 2013, however. This will be the first year on the ballot for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, and Craig Biggio. It's pretty much a safe assumption that Biggio will eventually make it in. Piazza may take some time to get in because of steroid allegations, but I think most fans agree he belongs in the Hall. Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa likely will never get in for various reasons, none of which had to do with on-field performance.
Curt Schilling had a great career, and won two of the biggest World Series in recent memories (the 2001 Diamondbacks win against the Yankees and the 2004 Red Sox victory) plus a third in 2007 with the Red Sox. He may sneak in because of those memorable moments and the fact he could easily have more wins on his record if he hadn't pitched for some awful Phillies squads. He also was hands-down a far superior pitcher to Jack Morris. Just look at Schilling's stats versus Jack Morris' stats. There is really no comparison.
So congratulations to Barry Larkin on a well-deserved induction. While this year's choice was a fairly easy call, next year will be quite controversial.
(Thanks to Baseball Almanac's list of Hall of Fame Shortstops (pre-Larkin induction) for helping with this fascinating research. I also must thank Fangraphs as always, for their comprehensive player database with all the stats you could ever want. Also, Baseball Reference continues to be the go to source for many things baseball.)
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