To my mind Barry Larkin is a stone cold lock for the Hall of Fame, even though there are probably enough people with short memories or who are just not paying attention among the BWAA to insure that he doesn’t get in this year.
Larkin had the complete package. An outstanding hitter with an .815 career OPS and a 116 OPS+ at a position where offense is at a premium, he was also no slouch with the glove, was always talked about as one of the better defenders in the league, and even won three gold gloves once Ozzie Smith retired.
Plus, Larkin was outstanding on the basepaths, averaging 28 stolen bases per 162 games, and thus, with his .371 on-base percentage including a career-high .410 in 1996, Larkin was not only one of the best shortstops of his era, but also one of the best leadoff men.
The one knock against Larkin, in my view, is that he had some struggles staying healthy and on the field. Nevertheless, he managed to remain a starting shortstop in the major leagues from age 23 until his final season, at age 40 (when he put up a very respectable line of .289/.352/.419 and made the All-Star team), and his games played totals look worse than they should because two of his prime seasons were cut short by strike.
Of course, many people are comparing Larkin in their minds to guys like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, but Larkin played half his career in the non-steroid era whereas A-Rod is a confirmed steroid user, plus people seem to forget that A-Rod will have played well over half his career as a third baseman and not a shortstop.
As for Jeter, even if Derek Jeter retired today he is already in the top five shortstops of all time. Barry Larkin was better than about half the shortstops currently in the Hall, and is almost certainly in the top 10 of all time. He deserves to be in.
But what really seals it for me, even more than the numbers, is Larkin’s reputation at the time he played. I still remember back when Larkin signed his last big contract with the Reds in the 2000 offseason, everyone kept referring to him as “future hall-of-famer Barry Larkin.” At that time, pretty much everyone in the game thought of him as a lock for the Hall, yet somehow, in the ensuing 10 years, people have somehow forgotten Barry Larkin’s greatness, and he has somehow become not so much of a lock.
Given the eye-popping, steroid-fueled numbers of those ensuing 10-years, it kind of makes sense, but it also makes no sense at all, since we all know a lot of those numbers were created unnaturally. Barry Larkin needs to be remembered in the context of his times, in which he was the best shortstop in all of baseball for about 5 years, the best in the National League for almost a decade, and among the top 3 or 4 for his entire career.