01/07/12 11:53 AM EST
Larkin awaits potential bump from Hall voters
Shortstop could reach required 75 percent year after earning 62.1
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Barry Larkin didn't sit around through the holidays dwelling on his chances of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America pondered the possibilities.The ballot for the Class of 2012 was mailed out in early December, and the results of the voting will be announced on Monday. Larkin, the most viable player on a ballot that has no standout first-year candidates, said he found ways to spend his time during that five-week period and was not antsy. "I've got three kids and they keep me busy," Larkin told MLB.com recently via telephone from his home in Orlando, Fla. "That helps. I won't be sitting around thinking about the possibilities. It's better that way for me. That way, I won't feel any pressure. I like to have things going on. Usually, I just turn the TV and radio off." Now 47 and a baseball analyst for ESPN, this is Larkin's third of a possible 15 years on the writers' ballot, and he's beginning to get the hang of it.
Last year, the 12-time National League All-Star and three-time NL Gold Glove Award-winning shortstop -- who played his entire 19-year career at home in Cincinnati -- finished third behind second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven. The latter pair was inducted into the Hall this past July, along with general manager Pat Gillick, a post-expansion Veterans Committee electee.A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Alomar (90 percent) and Blyleven (79.7 percent) earned their ticket to Cooperstown on the 2011 ballot. Larkin (62.1 percent) and starting pitcher Jack Morris (53.5 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot. The induction ceremony is slated this year for July 22 in Cooperstown, N.Y., behind the Clark Sports Center. Ron Santo, the legendary Cubs third baseman, was elected to the Hall last month by the Golden Era Committee and will be inducted with any winner on the BBWAA ballot on that date. On July 21 at Doubleday Field, Ford C. Frick Award winner Tim McCarver and J.G. Taylor Spink Award electee Bob Elliott will be honored in a separate ceremony. On the most recent ballot, Larkin garnered 361 of a possible 581 votes. Based on those figures, he must jump 12.9 percent -- or 75 votes -- to gain election. He had 51.6 percent in 2010, his first year on the ballot. That kind of acceleration is not unprecedented. In the history of the BBWAA balloting, which goes back to the first class of 1936, 16 players have made a leap of at least 13 percent into the Hall the very next year. The last one to do it was Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who went from 66.1 percent in 2004 to 76.2 percent a year later. Coincidentally, Sandberg was elected in his third year on the ballot. Larkin knows the score, and that the next four years are paved with ballots that will include the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Trevor Hoffman. Larkin hopes he has left his mark as one of the few who played his entire career for his hometown team. "I'm very proud of the fact that I was born and raised in Cincinnati, that I stayed in Cincinnati, that my mom and dad are still there, that a couple of brothers are still there. That was very important to me," Larkin said. "I was also surrounded by some very good people. Buddy Bell was my third baseman, Pete Rose was my manager that first year. Dave Parker, Tony Perez, Ron Oester were all there. I had some great influences there, people who taught me how to play the game the right way. I wanted to continue that legacy and pass on that Reds tradition, and that's why I stayed." Larkin certainly posted the numbers. He's a nine-time Sliver Slugger Award winner, a member of the Reds squad that swept the A's in the 1990 World Series and the NL's Most Valuable Player in 1995. His .295 lifetime batting average is 33 points higher than Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, who was elected predominantly for his defense on the first ballot 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. Ripken, of course, is a different matter all together, having broken Lou Gehrig's record by playing in 2,632 consecutive games. But unlike Ripken, who finished his career at third base, Larkin started 2,059 of 2,180 games he played at shortstop. He was long overshadowed in the field by Smith, who won 13 Gold Glove Awards during their careers that overlapped for 11 seasons. Smith played 2,494 of his 2,573 games at short. But if you're looking at fielding percentage, Ripken finished 10th overall all-time among shortstops at .9793, Smith was 12th at .9792, and Larkin's .9746 is 37th. Both Ripken and Smith are among the 23 shortstops already in the Hall, but are the only ones in nearly three decades to be voted in by the BBWAA. Yankees great Phil Rizzuto (1994) is the most recent shortstop elected by members of a Veterans Committee. Larkin is the Derek Jeter model, a shortstop's shortstop and a stalwart at that one position. "I'm certainly proud of what I was able to do," Larkin said. "I played on Astroturf [in old Riverfront Stadium], which was not good on the body. Fortunately, I was able to avoid any catastrophic injury. I certainly had my plethora of injuries, but nothing that forced me into moving to a different position or pushed me to retire early. I was very lucky and extremely blessed. Obviously, I had to work hard to match what other people were doing." Writers will also have to take these numbers into consideration: Larkin's 2,340 hits -- 844 behind Ripken -- and the 1,092 double plays he helped turn as a shortstop, 498 in arrears of Smith. Larkin said he knows he has no control over all this and how the writers perceive what he accomplished. "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.