Sunday, October 17, 2004

Larkin no shoo-in for Hall


Sampling of voters shows Reds great's on bubble

By John Erardi
Enquirer staff writer

It seems there is little chance former Reds great Barry Larkin will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

He probably will receive between 40 percent and 50 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility - 75 percent is required for election - and then either languish in that range or gradually gain support and narrowly be elected (or rejected) between years six and 15, after which time his name will be sent to the veterans' committee for consideration.

This is the prevailing opinion of 30 Hall of Fame voters canvassed Friday by the Enquirer. The 30 voters are split evenly between American and National League cities and are a cross-section of the more than 500 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who cast ballots.

Some of the 30 voters are national writers who cover both leagues; some work in metro areas with an NL or AL team.

The Reds recently announced they will not pursue Larkin as a free agent. Larkin, who turns 41 in April, was the Reds' shortstop for more than 18 seasons and wants to play one more.

If it turns out there is no interest in him from other teams and he decides to retire, he will become eligible for Hall of Fame balloting in December 2009.

One stipulation the Enquirer drew in determining which voters to canvass was that no former or present Cincinnati writer was allowed. (The local contingent is known to be unanimous in support of the Silverton native, and that would have skewed the survey.)

Of the 30 voters canvassed, 17 said they would vote for Larkin, five said they wouldn't and eight said they weren't sure. If this sample holds true for the annual voters, Larkin will need to pick up about 75 percent of the undecideds to reach the threshold for election.

That might be a stretch, but with time, it is possible. Some voters think it will happen; some don't. Some say it's impossible to predict.

"If I had to make a living betting on what Hall of Fame voters would do, I'd be in Chapter 11," said ESPN's Jayson Stark, who earned his writer's card in Philadelphia. "But my gut feeling is that Barry will wallow in Andre Dawson Land for a lot of years, getting 40-50 percent of the vote, but not quite making it."

Dawson, the cannon-armed right fielder with the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs who won the Most Valuable Player award in 1987, is headed into his fourth year on the Hall of Fame ballot. He received 50 percent of the vote in each of the last two years and 45 percent in his first year.

Stark isn't alone in his caution.

"The offensive evolution of the shortstop position has shrunk (Larkin's) numbers," said Mike Klis of the Denver Post, who will vote for Larkin but doesn't think enough of his colleagues will. "He also hung on too long. If he would have retired three years ago, I think he would have been a first-ballot guy. But the longer he played, the more mediocre he became. Five years from whenever he retires, a significant number of voters will remember many ordinary years."

Here is a sampling of BBWAA members surveyed about Larkin's Hall of Fame prospects:

Yes for Larkin (17)

• Mel Antonen, USA Today - "The Hall of Fame was built for players like Larkin. ... He was one of the best at his position for a long period of time and he was a unique blend of offense and defense. He won an MVP and a World Series. He was a team leader, and he had one intangible that I think is important: He defined the Reds' franchise, much like Kirby Puckett in Minnesota and Edgar Martinez in Seattle."

• Klis, Denver Post - "My requirement for the Hall of Fame is 10 stellar seasons. He's had that. For about 10 years, he was the best two-way shortstop in baseball. I'm big on shortstop being the most important position in baseball, and he was arguably the best - perhaps better than Ozzie (Smith) when offense is factored in - for a decade. His mix of speed and power made him a real weapon before the juiced-ball era dwarfed all elements except the home run."

• Glenn Dickey, San Francisco Chronicle - "I think Larkin will be elected to the Hall of Fame, and in the regular balloting. I will certainly vote for him, and on the first ballot. My guess is that not enough of my colleagues will vote for him to make it on the first ballot. Of course, he probably won't be eligible for about eight years. Since he's only 40, the Giants will probably sign him to a three-year contract!"

No for Larkin (5)

• Marty Noble, Newsday - "My sense of Barry is that he was a very good player who had a few better-than-very-good seasons. An offensive shortstop no longer is extraordinary after (Cal) Ripken, (Alan) Trammell, and to a lesser degree, (Robin) Yount. The production of ARod (Alex Rodriguez), Nomar (Garciaparra) and (Derek) Jeter will cloud the issue even though they made their marks after Barry's best years. He's behind Ozzie and (Dave) Concepcion defensively."

• David Andriesen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer -"He's a definite borderline guy. I think he's more likely to be a Veterans' Committee selection, as they tend to weigh the man more than the numbers. He'll have a lot of people who really respect him on that committee by the time his 15-year window is up. ... He's been a tremendous player, and for a time was among the best in the game, but ... I wouldn't put him in that class (over the majority of his career)."

Undecideds (8)

• Joe Henderson, Tampa Tribune - "He doesn't have the overwhelming 'automatic' accomplishment, such as 3,000 hits, a dozen Gold Gloves, 300 home runs, that sort of thing. He was a very good player for a long time, and he was a class act. But would you consider him among the greats to ever play the game? I'm not so sure. I think his best chance at being voted in will probably be a few years after he's on the ballot. Maybe it comes up in a weak year, with a good PR campaign by his supporters."

• James Salisbury, Philadelphia Inquirer - "This guy deserves strong, strong consideration, and he will get it from me. But right now, I can't give you a yes or a no. For some guys, that does not bode well, because I do believe that in the case of many Hall of Famers, the voters know right away if he's a yes or a no. The 'I'm not sures' often don't make the cut. But I do feel this guy is special."

Tale of the tape

(This was the data about Larkin provided to the voters, and the questions asked of them.)

Career stats: 18 1/4 seasons; .295; 2,180 games; 7,937 at-bats; 2,340 hits; 1,329 runs; 198 home runs; 441doubles; 76 triples; 960 RBI; 379 stolen bases.

Career info: 1995 MVP; first shortstop and only the fifth player overall (others are Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds and Joe Morgan) to accumulate at least 2,300 hits, 190 home runs and 370 stolen bases; 12-time All-Star (5 times voted onto starting lineup; 9 times named to The Sporting News' National League All-Star team; 3 times voted to the Associated Press' Major League All-Star team); 9 Silver Slugger awards; 3 Gold Gloves; in 1996, became the first shortstop (and only the second non-outfielder) to produce 30 HR and 30 SB in the same season; 1990 World Champion.

Questions:

1.) Do you think Barry Larkin will make the Hall of Fame? Do you think it will be by the writers or the veterans' committee?

2.) Will you vote for him? Why or why not?

3.) Will you vote for him on the first ballot? Why or why not?




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