This time of the year especially, you read some crazy stuff about the Hall of Fame. But this, from a newspaper writer named Joe Palladino, just might be the craziest:
The Baseball Writers Association of America — can't believe they let those guys pick anything — selected Barry Larkin as a 2012 inductee into the Hall of Fame. Larkin had terrific numbers, for a shortstop, but I am still left wondering about his Fame worthiness. If you look back on the decade of the 1990s, and you were asked to pick one shortstop from that decade for your all-decade team, whom would you pick?
Even though he only played the last half of the 90s, wouldn't you pick Derek Jeter first? Even over Larkin? I would. Even though his numbers began to decline in the second half of the decade, wouldn't you pick Cal Ripken over Larkin? I would. Even though, like Jeter, he came on the scene mid-decade, wouldn't you pick Alex Rodriguez over Larkin? I would. Ozzie Smith? I would. Nomar Garciaparra? Well, let's not get carried away, but in the last three seasons of the 1990s, Nomar was as immense as any player in the game.
So what's the point? The yardstick that is always tossed around for the Hall of Fame is this: Was he the dominant player of his era at his position?
In my shortstop gauge, Larkin comes out about fifth, maybe even sixth. And that's a Hall of Famer?
Whom would I pick?
I would pick Barry Larkin.
Look, this is real simple ... If you're going to set up arbitrary endpoints -- the decade of the 1990s, for example -- then you don't get to ignore those endpoints when it suits your argument. Cal Ripken played third base for three seasons in the 1990s. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez both played four seasons at shortstop in the 1990s. Ozzie Smith? Ozzie Smith? In 1990, Ozzie Smith turned 36.
Okay, so let's set the 1990s aside. Everybody's got a different idea of what "era" means. So let's consider all those shortstops, since all were active in the late 1990s.
First, it's been a great era for shortstops. No doubt about that. Was Barry Larkin "the dominant player of his era at his position"? No, he wasn't. The problem is that if that's your Hall of Fame "yardstick", then of course there's room for just one shortstop from Larkin's era. Cal Ripken? Sorry. Not as dominant at his position as Alex Rodriguez. Derek Jeter? Sorry. Great player, but not as dominant as Rodriguez, or Ripken.
For that matter, let's kick Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg out of Cooperstown. In their era, they were excellent first basemen but certainly weren't the equals of Lou Gehrig. Duke Snider? He wasn't as good as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. I can't figure out what George Brett's doing in the Hall of Fame. Sure, he was pretty good. But he wasn't as good as Mike Schmidt.
It's a stupid yardstick. Sometimes the baseball gods give us a bunch of great shortstops at once, sometimes a bunch of great first basemen, sometimes a bunch of great left fielders. And sometimes the baseball gods don't.
You know who grades out as the best second baseman in the 1960s?
You know who grades out as the three best catchers in the 1960s?
Joe Torre, Bill Freehan, Elston Howard.
Now, you can make a pretty decent Hall of Fame case for Torre. Freehan, too. But the fact is that none of those guys have been elected to the Hall of Fame, and each is a marginal candidate, at best.
Barry Larkin was a great player. Roughly as great as Ozzie Smith. Roughly as great as Derek Jeter. It's not his fault he played at roughly the same time as those guys, any more than it's Wade Boggs' fault he played at roughly the same time as Mike Schmidt and George Brett.
Anyone who thinks Barry Larkin wasn't a great player is being willfully ignorant. And anyone who thinks the Hall of Fame should be restricted to players like Cal Ripken and Willie Mays are living in Hyrule, because the actual Hall of Fame hasn't been nearly so exclusive since World War II.
As I've said many times, everybody's got their ideal Hall of Fame. But there's an actual Hall of Fame, and the actual Hall of Fame, for many decades now, has made plenty of room for players exactly as good as Barry Larkin. And while there certainly are players in the Hall of Fame who shouldn't be -- players who lower the standards for the Hall of Fame -- Larkin isn't one of them, any more than Ozzie Smith did or Derek Jeter will.