Barry Larkin was elected to the Hall of Fame today. Alan Trammell was not. I'm not going to argue that this is some grave injustice that needs to be rectified with civil disobedience and letter-writing campaigns, but the difference between how the two players were treated by the Hall of Fame voters is striking. Let's take a look at the career statistics for both:
|Alan Trammell||Barry Larkin|
Larkin takes him in most categories. I think that most people would acknowledge that Larkin had the better career, even after injuries are taken into account. But look at those WAR margins -- razor thin, both with the Baseball-Reference metrics and the FanGraphs metric. Trammell played 20 seasons; Larkin played 19. Over their respective careers, they were pretty comparable in value.
This wouldn't mean much if Larkin was juuuuust good enough to squeak into the Hall of Fame. Larkin getting in after a couple of decades or a Veteran's Committee ballot wouldn't add to Trammell's cause. But Larkin got in on his third year of eligibility with 86 percent of the vote. Larkin wasn't a borderline case -- he didn't satisfy the extra-super-special-first-ballot-bonus-points ninnies, but he was clearly a Hall of Famer in the voters' eyes right from the beginning.
It's that last statistic up there that's the reason for the gap between the HOF perception gap between Larkin and Trammell. CRiL is a proprietary statistic I developed specifically to measure shortstops against each other. It's a park- and era-adjusted stat that can sum up a shortstop's Hall-of-Fame chances in a single number. It stands for "Cal Ripkens in League." Larkin outpaces Trammell easily on this one.
Again, it's not that Larkin wasn't better than Trammell. By most metrics (and obviously in the court of public opinion), he certainly was. But if Larkin is a Hall of Famer, Trammell certainly deserves a closer look. The gap between them wasn't that big. The biggest difference between the two is that Larkin was almost always the best offensive shortstop in his league. His competition was Ozzie Smith in his mid-to-late 30s, Jay Bell, and Jeff Blauser. Contenders would come and go like so many Wil Corderos.
Trammell was always shortstop 1b or 1c in the American League through no fault of his own. He didn't just lag behind with CRiL -- his candidacy also took a hit because of his RYiL numbers. Robin Yount was in the AL too, often putting up seasons worthy of MVP votes. Considering that Trammell played with two first-ballot Hall of Fame shortstops, his six All-Star team selections are even more impressive.
Another difference between Larkin and Trammell is that the latter had a sidekick who was also worthy of the Hall of Fame. For just under two decades, Lou Whitaker played along Trammell, making All-Star teams and hitting at a position where most teams shouldn't have a hitter. The two rode around on tandem bikes and finished each other's sentences, and there might have been a tendency to pretend that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. If Trammell played a couple decades with Doug Flynn, maybe he would have stood out more.
Please don't take this as an article suggesting that Larkin is unworthy, or that Trammell was Larkin's equal. Larkin is a clear Hall of Famer, and if I'm picking an all-time team in some sort of draft, he gets snatched up well before Trammell. But the gap in voter excitement between the two is curious -- one skated in easily in his third try, whereas the other one might not ever get a simple majority of the vote. But Larkin was never overshadowed by anyone other than an aging Ozzie Smith. In the arena of visibility, Trammell was contending with two first-ballot Hall of Famers and a double-play partner who was a perennial All-Star.
That tired old argument of "They call it the Hall of Fame for a reason," might actually mean something after all. If Trammell wanted in, he could have been more famous. And if he wanted to be more famous, he shouldn't have played at the same time as all those famous dudes. Not sure what he was thinking there. But it hasn't done wonders for his candidacy, even if he'd be a worthy entrant into the Hall.