I'm taking a brief pause from football to recognize the candidacy of Barry Larkin for the Hall of Fame. Larkin is third on my list of all-time favorite athletes (behind 18 and 31). I had planned a lengthy defense of Larkin, but there have already been several excellent ones written by others. Rather than duplicate their work, let me point you towards the following excellent and comprehensive pieces:
How does Larkin compare to the players above (HoF SSs)? His hitting rate stats of .295/.371/.444 place him on the cusp between the Offensive Elite and the Offensive 2nd Tier. His 198 career home runs would place him near 2nd among Hall of Fame Shortstops; behind only Ernie Banks (Cal Ripken holds the record for SS, with 345 and should be elected to the hall in 2007). Add in his 379 stolen bases and 3 gold glove awards, and Larkin begins to look more and more favorable compared to many Shortstops already in the Hall of Fame.
Just for fun, take a look at the similarities between Larkin's career through 1996 and a mystery shortstop's current numbers:G 2B 3B HR BB SB CS RCAP WSNow, in the interest of full disclosure I've done a little cherry-picking of stats to make the comparison work. Those numbers take Larkin through his age-32 season, while our mystery shortstop was just 30 years old last year. Still, they are pretty damn close through 1,300 games or so. And Larkin put up those numbers in a far less friendly environment for offense than our masked man has played his entire career in. If you account for that and adjust Larkin's rate stats accordingly, here is how the two shortstops compare through ~1,300 games:
Larkin 1328 254 48 135 545 275 51 341 241
Mystery SS 366 283 42 150 559 201 52 328 219G AVG OBP SLG OPS IsoD IsoP
Larkin 1328 .305 .379 .487 .866 .074 .182
Mystery SS 1366 .315 .385 .463 .848 .070 .148
By now you've probably figured out that our mystery man is none other than Captain Dreamboat himself, Derek Jeter. While I've been known to pick on Mr. Clutch at times, the one thing the man can clearly do is hit. So I mean it as nothing less than a huge compliment when I say that when it comes to hitting, Barry Larkin was Derek Jeter before Derek Jeter. Add in years of good defense and a career that produced 147 RCAP, 105 Win Shares, four All-Star appearances, and three legitimately outstanding seasons after 1996, and Larkin should be a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.
The final thing to take away from that figure is where Larkin fits with respect to the HoF zone. The top of that zone is the average Hall of Famer's career line on a WAR graph like the one above. The bottom of that zone is roughly the 20th percentile of HoF'ers, sometimes referred to as the "replacement hall of fame" line. Larkin is comfortably within--and sometimes over--the top of that zone every year of his career. This confirms what the Appling & Smith comparisons tell us--he had comparable careers to those guys, who are fairly average Hall of Fame players (i.e. they were superb players).
As a player, well, Larkin was an amazing player to watch every day. Yes, I cringe when I hear that "you have to see him every day to appreciate him" cliche... but it really was amazing how many times we would be watching from the box and Larkin made a play that left you shaking your head in admiration. I suppose it felt that way because he was such a well-rounded player -- Bill James in the New Historical Abstract called Larkin one of the 10 most complete players in baseball history (italics his). He could do so many different things that could impress you.
• Larkin stole 379 bases -- and at remarkable 83 percent success rate.
• Larkin never struck out 70 times in a season, and walked 112 more times in his career than he struck out.
• Larkin hit double-digit home runs nine times, and as many as 33 in a season.
• Larkin finished in the top 10 in batting average four times, runs scored five times, walks three times, stolen bases five times, on-base percentage three times, slugging twice. He won three Gold Gloves. He won the MVP, the Lou Gehrig and the Roberto Clemente Awards. He made 12 All-Star Teams. He hit .353 in his one World Series appearance. And he played with a certain style -- he was just a graceful player. He made great defensive plays without diving, and stole bases with a seeming effortlessness.
The sentiment out there seems to be that it might take Larkin awhile to get in, because people have forgotten how good he is. There simply are no credible arguments for excluding him (unless someone wants to ignore position eligibility altogether and compare SS with OF and 1B). Ultimately, he was a player who helped change the position of short stop from strictly a defensive one to one where offense could be expected. Larkin will eventually get voted in because his candidacy is too strong to ignore. His case is much stronger than say...Jim Rice's.
Larkin will be in the Hall of Fame. It's just a question of when.
I've never been to Cooperstown, NY. But I'll move heaven and earth to be there the day Barry Larkin gets in.