|Larkin, Bagwell Two Stories of Hall of Fame||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on January 17, 2012
When looking back to the NL Central division of the mid-to-late 1990s, a handful of players immediately come to mind. Two of the most prominent are Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell.
On his third appearance on the ballot, Larkin was elected Jan. 9 to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. He becomes the first natural shortstop elected since Cal Ripken Jr.
Larkin was the definition of a class act. Unlike many athletes who let their fame go straight to their head, Larkin considered his athletic talents a blessing and used them wisely.
For his career, Larkin had 2,340 hits, 441 doubles, 198 home runs, 930 RBI and 379 stolen bases as predominantly a leadoff hitter. He holds the distinction as being the only shortstop in the history of the game with at least 2,300 hits, 190 home runs and 370 stolen bases. He was also the first shortstop to record a 30 home run, 30 stolen base season in 1996.
There's no doubt that Larkin would have eventually made the Hall of Fame. He received 52 percent of the vote in 2010 and fell just 75 votes short last year.
"It's just amazing," Larkin told MLB Network. "Last year, I just started to smell it a little bit. The first year, I didn't even think it was fathomable, to be quite honest."
At just age 47, Larkin will not have to wait as long as some of his peers for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. In fact, many of the players that Larkin played with or against during baseball's "steroid era" will likely never receive the call.
But Bagwell -- a player who Larkin played against countless times -- was not elected to the hall on his second try.
It's fair to say that Bagwell's career did not warrant a first ballot Hall of Fame selection. First-time ballot selections should be reserved for the likes of Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, just to name a few.
However, based on Larkin's selection, it's also fair to say that Bagwell should have received the call this time around.
Bagwell was a feared hitter of the mid-to-late '90s and early 2000s. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1991, which was the precursor to a stellar career.
Though he was only a four-time All-Star, keep in mind that he played a position chock full of stars like Mark McGwire, Todd Helton and even Albert Pujols later on. The same goes for Bagwell's lone Gold Glove award and just three Silver Sluggers.
But just because he didn't accumulate trophies and awards doesn't mean his accomplishments should be overlooked.
In his MVP season of 1994 -- at age 26 no less -- Bagwell hit an unreal .368 with 39 home runs, a league-leading 116 RBI and a league-leading total of 104 runs scored. He also had a .750 slugging percentage and 300 total bases.
Bagwell hit 30-plus home runs in his career nine times, including an eight-year stretch from 1996-2003. He retired with 449 career home runs, 2,314 hits and a .297 batting average. He also stole 202 bases, most of which came earlier in his career.
Bagwell has the numbers, but playing during the steroid era is what has likely held him back. His physique, especially his huge forearms, made it seem that he might be taking something illegal. However, he has maintained that he has never used steroids or human growth hormone, and he has never tested positive for any illegal substance.
Maybe some voters are apprehensive of the procedures to remove a player from the Hall of Fame if a positive drug test surfaces. If Bagwell happened to be elected and happened to test positive, then what?
With marquee names of the steroid era like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens set to appear on the ballot in 2013, where do we draw the line? Many players have either tested positive or openly admitted their steroid use, which will likely hurt their chances for selection.
But players like Bagwell, who've never had a positive test and were never linked to steroids, are getting the raw end of the deal.
Congratulations to Larkin for his enshrinement, but he should be entering the Hall of Fame in July standing next to Bagwell.