Larkin's Hall Case Appears Just Short
Which is a long way of saying -- as Larkin is, for the first time, eligible for the Hall of Fame -- that I understand the intangibles Larkin provided in Cincinnati.
Last week we went through the credentials of, and my thought process on the candidacy of, Edgar Martinez.
We can repeat the exercise with Larkin. In the case of Martinez, I was leaning against him as a Hall of Famer going in.
I won't say I'm more open-minded on Larkin -- I try to be open-minded on everyone -- but before looking closely at his career, I don't have a feel for how I will decide. He's not a sure-fire Hall of Famer in my book, but because he was a shortstop and clearly one of the few best shortstops of his time, he's not to be counted out either.
Larkin's peak years came at a transition time for his position: after Ozzie Smith and before the explosion of offensive shortstops such as Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Derek Jeter.
So Larkin didn't have a chance at a lot of Gold Gloves -- he won three, 1994-96, after Smith's reign 1980 to 1992 -- and his offensive numbers don't read like the shortstops who are a few years younger.
Thanks to a bio sheet sent out by Rob Butcher, the fantastic director of media relations for the Reds, we know that Larkin was a 12-time All-Star. And that's one important fact in Larkin's favor, that he was considered a star for such a long period of time.
Then again, although he was the 1995 NL MVP, he finished higher than 12th in the voting (despite my help!) just once, in 1990, when he was seventh.
The Reds -- who included a letter from team president and CEO Bob Castellini in support of Larkin -- point out that Larkin is the only shortstop ever to get at least 2,300 hits, 190 home runs and 370 stolen bases, is one of 17 players to play 2,000 games at shortstop and is one of seven NL shortstops to hit 30 homers in a season.
All noteworthy accomplishments. But back to my standard for the Hall of Fame: Was he a dominant player at his position in his era?
Larkin's best 10-year stretch was 1990 through 1999. Over that decade he hit .303 with an .854 OPS and 834 runs scored.
He was the most productive shortstop in those 10 years, ahead of Jay Bell, Jeff Blauser and Shawon Dunston.
But in the bigger picture, he was 34th in the majors in OPS+ (OPS adjusted for park and era), with a figure comparable to Ray Lankford or Jay Buhner.
Larkin was 20th in runs scored for 1990-99, 21st in hits and 21st in on-base percentage.
So he wasn't really one of the top offensive players of his era.
Butcher's flyer says that Bill James called Larkin "one of the 10 most complete players in history" and the the sixth-greatest shortstop ever (behind Hall of Famers Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount and Ernie Banks and ahead of Smith). And baseballprojection.com ranks Larkin 58th all-time among position players in "wins above replacement" -- how many wins he is estimated to have added to his team above what a so-called replacement player would have provided. That's about the same ranking as Tony Gwynn.
Certainly these rankings give me reason to at least consider Larkin's place in history.
But I recall him as a good fielder who was a very good hitter for his position. And this does not scream Hall of Famer to me.
As always, I reserve the right the change my mind. Perhaps I will be shown that Larkin was a better defensive player than I remember, or get convinced his offensive contributions were great rather than good.
But my conclusion for now is that just because Larkin was one of the two or three best shortstops of his time doesn't mean he is a Hall of Famer.