Barry Larkin and the Hall of Fame

Barry Larkin and the Hall of Fame
Congratulations to Barry Larkin, stalwart shortstop of the Cincinnati Reds, on his election to the Hall of Fame this week. Barry garnered over 86% of the vote as a consensus candidate.

Some of the other candidates who got substantial percentages were Tim Raines, the great leadoff man and center fielder of the Montreal Expos, Jack Morris the pitcher who won the most games in the 1980’s and played on four World Series Champions, Jeff Bagwell the nonpareil first baseman of the Houston Astros and Lee Smith, the feared closer who dominated play in the 80’s and 90’s. All of them should continue their progress in next year’s voting (when a fecund and controversial class becomes eligible including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling.

Larkin, who embodied the “five tools” at a premium position, is a worthy member of the Hall of Fame. He will join the late Ron Santo who was voted in by the “Golden Age” committee a year too late. I could never figure out why Santo was not elected earlier, he was the best player at his position through most of the 1960’s and fought Type 1 diabetes that shortened his career and ultimately his life. That’s the kind of courage and character the Hall of Fame should by all about one would think.

The method by which the vote is conducted may be opening up for discussion after being conducted in the same manner since the Hall’s inception in the 1930’s: writers from the major league cities and some national writers get the ballots and conduct the vote; in 2012 573 ballots were distributed.

There is no question that in the 1930’s that the newspaper writers, the “ink-stained wretches”, who traveled and practically lived with their subjects, were the best judges and observers of what constituted a Hall of Fame career. This seems increasingly antique and obsolescent.

Today with the prevalence of the internet, all games being available on video either live or in archive, and the increasingly common use of so-called “analytics” in evaluating players and their accomplishments, there could be a better way to conduct the vote. Noted baseball fan and scribe Keith Olbermann suggests that MLB could copy the NFL, who gather 25 or so recognized experts in the game who gather and openly discuss the merits of the players under consideration. This would be a more interesting method than the current secret ballot.

One thing that separates football and baseball of course is the availability and use of meaningful performance metrics. In baseball, you’re hitting, you’re fielding, or you’re pitching. In football, you might know who the great interior linemen are, for example, but they’re not racking up yards or scores; it greatly illuminates the proceedings to be able to openly discuss the relative virtues of the players under consideration.

In baseball, change seemingly comes grudgingly, then all at once.

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