Barry Larkin, Hall of Famer. And good for him, honestly. It’s easy to forget just how good he was (though he was always a superstar in Backyard Baseball, obviously). Did you know he has a higher WAR (70.4) than HOF-er Luis Aparicio (63.6)? Than Pee Wee Reese (69.7)? How about higher than Roberto Alomar (68.0) and Ryne Sandberg (62.6)? My point being, Mr. Larkin (who is a pretty darn good analyst, too, in my opinion) certainly deserves his spot among these peers. He is a member of the 30-30 club (1996, a ridiculous year), had a career OPS of .815 (and that’s low due to his waning years), and trailed only Cal Ripken Jr. (883) and Jay Bell (735) at shortstop between 1990 and 2000 with 680 RBI. In that time he also led in SB (280), was 4th in HR (148), and second behind Jeter with an OBP of .388. Did I mention he was a leader of those teams and from Cincinnati? How cool is that? Barry Larkin was a precursor to the ‘new wave’ of shortstops, hitting for power, stealing bases, and playing great defense. I remember being surprised, but impressed when I would read his baseball cards. I remember playing with him in Backyard Baseball. I remember him looking incredibly, impossibly smooth when he played. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
So why was I so troubled when I found out he was the only one going in this year?
I couldn’t immediately put my finger on the sense of unease as I read about the vote and the Hall of Fame in general. Then it hit me as I began thinking back to my card-collecting days, sorting out all the ‘superstars’ and putting them in 3×3 protective sheets in protective binders (still in my closet). So I pulled out the binders and leafed through the pages. The source of my skepticism became immediately clear – there they were page after page, in all the binders, tainted superstars. Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Even my favorite players like Jeff Bagwell and Nomar Garciaparra. They all now exist under the cloud of steroid scrutiny. Some deserve it, some do not, and all are subject to the widespread judgments. But Larkin in no way falls under that same blanket, let me make myself clear. No, my concern grew out of the realization that all these players I grew up rooting for (and against), collecting, respecting, idolizing were under an entirely different microscope than any other era.
On the surface, most baseball fans would have no problem with this. Despite the fury dying down, people are still very frustrated by the whole ‘steroid era’ and feel the players have gotten a relative free pass. Understood. But the longer I thought about Larkin and the others in my Binders, the more complicated my thoughts on the Hall of Fame became. I arrived at a simple, direct and likely controversial conclusion: since when did these bozos with the votes get the right to invoke some ‘morality clause?’
It’s total B.S.
Did you know the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series? Of course you did. Did you know their owner, Charles Comiskey, was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1939? Though I have not seen a report (Mitchell or otherwise) linking Comiskey to the actually fixing of games, historians agree he was ruthless and a bit of a jerk, which may have contributed to the players’ desire to make an extra buck. Speculation and even history aside, isn’t the mere implication he knew anything enough to hold him back from election? Don’t we dismiss others for far less than such a supposed connection?
Or how about the late Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, Ty Cobb, and former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, all falling on the spectrum of notable racists (before you start, Kuhn proposed and constructed a separate wing of the Hall of Fame to put the Negro League players in…). All are in the Hall. Yawkey, by all accounts, was a popular owner for a time. He was, by many of the same accounts, an enormous racist and had to be convinced to integrate the Sox in the 70’s. Cobb was one of the greatest players of all time. He was also one of the most despised. Sharpening his spikes, spitting racial epithets, and being an overall poor human being.
The list could go on and on of players who skirted rules and behaved immorally. Baseball players are not supposed to be moral beings, they’re supposed to be playing a game. I realize that morality and rule breaking are different arguments, but when it comes to the Hall of Fame, where is the line? What is the ‘morality clause’ and where did it come from? I suppose I understand the argument that if a player cheated and was caught, they deserve to be punished. But at what cost? Do we banish Bonds and Clemens at the expense of innocent players? Let’s not forget, too, that technically, at the turn of the millennium (where most of the questions lie), the steroids in question were NOT banned. It was undeniably cheating. I see a distinction between the two. Clearly I’m in the minority. If we let scumbags in, drug addicts and womanizers, why are we casting such a shadow on a whole era of players? I’ll give you Brett Boone. I won’t argue for him. But are we really prepared to keep Jeff Bagwell out just because he played in a tainted era? How about Jim Thome? This Steroid/Hall-of-Fame issue is not going away and not being addressed properly. With the first really controversial class (2013) looming, a decision needs to be made. If you keep out some, you must keep out all. There can be no picking and choosing, no sliding scale of guilt. Are we willing to let the Pedro Gomezs, the Joel Shermans, the WOODY PAIGES cast their judgments on players who have not been found guilty of anything other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Congratulations, Barry Larkin. You deserve your election, the historic jump in percentage vote. You also mark calm before a storm. The coming years are only going to intensify the steroid issue. Be happy for Mr. Larkin. Be wary of the votes ahead, fans. It’s gonna get ugly. Like Marge Schott ugly.