Larkin, Morris looking for boosts in Hall voting
Writers' ballot for 2012 induction revealed, results come in January
Because of the least imposing first-year group of eligible players in recent memory, former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin seems to be the lone possibility for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the Class of 2012.
The ballot was distributed to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Wednesday.But Larkin is no shoo-in. The 12-time National League All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner, who played his entire 19-year career at home with Cincinnati, finished third in the 2011 balloting to second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven. The latter two were inducted into the Hall in July, along with general manager Pat Gillick, a post-expansion Veterans Committee electee. "Honestly, I don't think about it much," Larkin told MLB.com when reached recently at his home in Orlando, Fla. "When it comes to [this month], it'll be on my mind, for sure. There are some things you can control and others that you can't. So I try not to dwell so much on the ones that you can't. I'm excited about the opportunity, but it's not on the forefront of my mind."
To be elected to the Hall, a player needs to have his name appear on 75 percent of the ballots cast. Players need at least five percent of the votes to remain on the ballot from year to year. They have 15 years of eligibility, beginning five years after retirement.The results of the voting will be revealed on Jan. 9. MLB.com will air a simulcast of the announcement on MLB Network live at 2 p.m. ET.
Larkin, an ESPN baseball analyst, is in his third year on the ballot. He garnered 62.1 percent -- 361 of a possible 581 votes -- in last year's balloting. Based on those figures, he must jump 12.9 percent to gain election. He received 51.6 percent of the vote in 2010, his first year on the ballot.That kind of acceleration is not unheard of. In the history of the BBWAA balloting, which goes back to the first class in 1936, 16 players have made a leap of at least 13 percent in a single year to get into the Hall. The last player to make up such a sizeable margin was Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who went from 61.1 percent in 2004 to 76.2 percent a year later. Coincidentally, Sandberg was elected in his third year on the ballot. BBWAA members with at least 10 consecutive years of covering Major League Baseball have the month of December to determine their choices and can place as many as 10 names on their ballots. A Golden Era committee is also considering 10 candidates, including eight players, who participated in the Major Leagues from 1947-72. The committee will meet at the Winter Meetings in Dallas on Sunday and announce any selections on Monday. Among the notable first-timers on the BBWAA ballot are Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, Braves catcher Javy Lopez and Angels outfielder Tim Salmon. The other first-timers are Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Brian Jordan, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Phil Nevin, Brad Radke, Ruben Sierra, Tony Womack and Eric Young.
Aside from Larkin, other prominent returnees are pitchers Jack Morris (who was fourth with 53.5 percent of the vote last year, his 12th time on the ballot) and Lee Smith and first baseman Jeff Bagwell.First basemen Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are also back on the ballot, but both have been so associated with the era of performance-enhancing drugs that they have annually received a considerably low percentage of the vote. McGwire, the Cardinals hitting coach who admitted he used steroids during his playing career, got 19.1 percent of the vote last year. Palmeiro, who failed a drug test and was suspended in 2005, his last MLB season, got 11 percent of the vote last year, his first on the ballot. The other returnees are Juan Gonzalez, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.
Morris, who won the World Series with Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto and had 254 victories during his 18-year big league career, is a long shot. He needs to pick up 21.5 percent to make it this year. That's happened 10 times in the history of the balloting, though not since 1964, when White Sox shortstop Luke Appling gained election.But candidates beware. After this year, the coming ballots will be more and more star-studded. What surely will be a controversial vote next year will include all-time home run leader Barry Bonds, 354-game winner Roger Clemens, 3,000-hit-club member Craig Biggio, 12-time All-Star Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa, who slugged 609 homers. The ballot for 2014 induction will boast a trio of great pitchers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, plus slugger Frank Thomas. The group for 2015 will include another great group of pitchers: No. 2 overall strikeout leader Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, plus outfielder Gary Sheffield. And finally, the ballot for 2016 will offer outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte and closers Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner. Bonds and Clemens are in the midst of court cases, charged with lying in legal testimony about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice and is awaiting sentencing in December. The BBWAA has been consistent in electing at least one player each year, but only eight times in history have they elected three players or more. The last time the writers did not elect anyone was 1996, when pitcher Jim Bunning and manager Earl Weaver were among a quartet elected by a Veterans Committee. This year's 16-man Golden Era Committee is taking another look at whether Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges, Cubs third baseman Ron Santo or Twins/White Sox pitcher Jim Kaat are worthy of the Hall. White Sox outfielder/third baseman Minnie Minoso and pitcher Luis Tiant are also among the eight players on the ballot. Only one player -- Yankees and Indians second baseman Joe Gordon -- has been elected by numerous configurations of the Veterans Committee since 2001. Thus, there's a real possibility that no one will be elected to the Class of 2012 by that committee. If that comes to pass and is coupled with no selections by the BBWAA, it would be the first time since 1960 that no one would be inducted into the Hall. The induction ceremony is slated for July 22 in Cooperstown, N.Y., behind the Clark Sports Center. But right now no one is planning for that odd fate, particularly with the rich prospects that lie in the immediate years ahead. Larkin remains the primary hope, and this would seem to be his best shot at it for awhile. He is a nine-time Silver Slugger winner, a member of the Reds squad that swept the A's in the 1990 World Series and the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1995. His .295 lifetime batting average is 33 points higher than that of Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, who was elected predominately for his defense in 2002. Cal Ripken Jr., elected along with Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn on the first ballot for both men in 2007, hit .277 as a shortstop, the position he played for most of his stellar 21-year career with the Orioles. But Larkin said he isn't taking anything for granted. "I spent some time with Jim Rice when he was elected [in 2009] in his 15th year," Larkin said. "And I asked him why he thought it took him so long to be elected. He said, 'You can't go out and do anything else in your career. You have to feel good about what you were able to do.' Nothing had changed. That gave me a good perspective. So I've got to roll with the punches, at this point. "I'd certainly love to be in, but I'm just going to react to the news one way or another."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.