In his prime, the only real question about Barry Larkin was his durability. Would he be healthy enough, and would his career last long enough, in order for him to make the Hall of Fame?
On Monday, he got the call from Cooperstown.
On his Hall third ballot since retiring in 2004, Larkin achieved baseball immortality by getting 86.4 percent of the vote. He got 62.1 percent a year ago, with 75 percent necessary to win. Larkin, who played his entire 19-season career with the Cincinnati Reds, is the 22nd shortstop in Hall history.
In an interview on the MLB Network, Larkin said "it was almost an out-of-body experience" to learn he had been selected. But it was his physical body that had everyone questioning how long he would last. He managed to play in at least 150 games in a season only four times. Only seven times did he play in at least 140 games. But he was able to overcome periodic injuries. After all, here he is — a Hall of Famer.
Former Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins pitcher Jack Morris fell short with 66.7 percent of the vote (after getting 53.5 percent a year ago), but appears in decent shape to be elected next season. Former Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, who probably would have made the Hall already if not for a dubious association with steroids, saw his percentage jump from 41.7 percent to 56.
Former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines had his best showing to date, jumping from 37.5 percent to 48.7. Someday, probably, all of these players will reach Cooperstown. Alan Trammell's chances improved too, after he jumped from 24.3 percent to 36.8; perhaps Larkin's election will get more voters to focus on Trammell's also-worthy career as a shortstop. Here's a link with the full list of results, including those for Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez and Mark McGwire.
But this day belongs to Larkin, a Cincinnati kid who grew up to play with the hometown team, dominating on both sides of the ball and winning a World Series in 1990.
Overshadowed in different ways by Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith, Larkin won eight Silver Sluggers (more than any infielder other than Alex Rodriguez) and three Gold Gloves. He made 13 All-Star teams and won the NL MVP in 1995.
A self-described "complementary player," Larkin said a feeling had been building inside that he might be elected to the Hall.
"Last year, I just started to smell it a little bit. The first year, I didn't think it was fathomable," Larkin said. "Then last year, to see the increase from the 50-odd percent to the 60-odd percent, I thought, 'Well, there really seems to be a possibility.' "
Larkin said the admission a year ago of Roberto Alomar made him optimistic that voters would choose him soon. He also heard some good scuttlebutt from Alomar and Jim Rice that the support was there among voters.
As it should have been. Larkin finished his career with a .295/.371/.444 line, good for a 116 adjusted OPS — premium offensive numbers for a shortstop. And he managed 2,340 hits to go with 939 walks. Getting on base that much, with power for his position, along with 17,000 innings of good (if not always great) defense at shortstop equals a Hall of Famer.
He was healthy enough. He was good enough. And, doggone it, people liked him.
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