Barry Larkin, who was surrounded by solid talent in the Cincinnati Reds’ infield in the 1980s and ‘90s, stood alone Monday in a field of 27 as the only player voted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The former shortstop garnered 86 per cent of the votes from Baseball Writers’ Association of America members. Larkin, 47, received 62.1 per cent a year ago and 51.6 per cent in 2010, his first year on the ballot.
"I am so humbled by the experience and so excited about being the newest member of the Hall of Fame," Larkin said on a conference call. He received the largest single-year percentage increase to gain election since 1948, when pitcher Herb Pennock was elected with 77.7 per cent, a year after finishing with 53.4 per cent.
He will be inducted in scenic Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 22 along with legendary Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who was elected posthumously by the Hall’s Golden Era committee on Dec. 5.
"I'm a little surprised Larkin jumped out that much," said CBCSports.ca baseball contributor Kevin Glew, noting the 24 per cent increase from last year. "I figured he would probably get in but I thought it would be closer to the 75 per cent [required for enshrinement] than it was.
"I thought the writers were pretty generous overall. There were five guys who had double-digit jumps, in terms of support [from 2011]."
Jack Morris (67 per cent), Jeff Bagwell (56 per cent, up from 41 in 2011), Lee Smith (51) and Tim Raines (49) rounded out the top five voting Monday.
Glew said he was surprised at Morris's rise from 53.5 per cent of support from 2011, given his lifetime 3.90 earned-run average, despite the fact he boasts four World Series rings and three 20-win campaigns.
"There's a real group of detractors on him. He's probably the most divisive candidate on the ballot," Glew said.
But history shows Morris probably will get enough votes in his two remaining years of eligibility. Eight-time all-star first baseman Gil Hodges, who led the Brooklyn Dodgers to seven NL pennants, is the only player to receive more than 50 per cent of support and never gain election.
Larkin, who currently works as a baseball analyst for ESPN, is easily qualified for Cooperstown.
The Cincinnati native was a 12-time all-star, the 1995 National League MVP, had 2,340 hits in a 19-year career — all with the Reds — a .295 lifetime batting average, .371 on-base percentage, 198 home runs and 379 stolen bases.
“I’m very proud of the fact I was born and raised in Cincinnati that I stayed in Cincinnati, that my mom and dad are still there, that a couple of my brothers are still there,” Larkin told MLB.com recently. “That was very important to me.”
While some thought Larkin would be hurt in the voting process by the fact he didn’t stand out in a single skill throughout his career, this year was considered the least-imposing first group of eligible players in recent memory.
Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly and Alan Trammell were among the returning candidates.
World Series champion
Larkin, who finished third in 2011 voting behind former Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar and one-time Minnesota starting pitcher Bert Blyleven, made his major league debut in 1986 and four years later helped Cincinnati sweep Oakland in the 1990 World Series.
Larkin went on to capture NL MVP honours in 1995 when he hit .319 in 131 games while adding 15 homers, 66 runs batted in, 51 stolen bases and 98 runs scored. The next season he became the first shortstop to have 30 homers and 30 steals in a season.
The Reds’ first-round pick of the 1985 amateur draft (fourth overall) played another nine seasons before competing in his final game on Oct. 3, 2004, having started 2,059 of 2,180 games he played at shortstop.
Larkin also helped turn 1,092 double plays and topped .300 nine times, as only Luke Appling, Derek Jeter, Arky Vaughn and Honus Wagner had more .300 seasons among shortstops.
In addition to his Little League, high school and college coaches, Larkin credited late Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, who recruited him out of Cincinnati and then redshirted him as a freshman.
"I was a better football player than a baseball player at the time," Larkin said. "I just worked on my baseball talent, just that alone. That was an eye-opener because I got so much better."
Next year's ballot will be highlighted by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Curt Schilling.
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