Former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and late former Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo made history on Jan. 9 when both were announced as 2012 inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., after being voted-in via the Baseball Writers Association of America and Veterans Committee, respectively.
Larkin received 86 percent of the vote in his third induction attempt, while Santo sailed in with just under 94 percent. And this year’s elections marked a special line between two eras in baseball.
Larkin entered the league in 1986, just prior to the late 1990s and early 2000s when performance-enhancing drugs single-handedly changed the game forever. Scoring was at an all-time low, and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jesse Barfield led the league with 40 home runs.
Even Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Rob Deer was recognized as one of the league’s top power-hitters, belting out 33 bombs, good enough for fifth overall among all players.
Another well-known baseball star by the name of Mark McGwire also entered the league in 1986, but between him and Larkin, the two chose different paths in terms of discipline and playing style. Larkin became an early Derek Jeter prototype, combing both speed and power, only without the backdrop of a New York Yankees organization behind him.
McGwire has admitted he chose the performance-enhancing method — under-the-radar at the time — and in just three years became one of the game’s most dominant players.
McGwire went on to take down Roger Maris’ elusive single-season home run record in 1998, belting 70 after a season-long battle with Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa, which saw national spotlight and helped skyrocket MLB’s fan base. McGwire ended his career with the lowest at bats per home run ratio in MLB history, hitting a home run every 10 at bats.
Coincidentally, both Larkin and McGwire were 12-time All-Stars and each won a World Series as players — McGwire in 1989, followed by Larkin in 1990.
Larkin is a clear choice for the Hall of Fame and has comparable statistics to McGwire, so why isn’t Big Mac joining him?
A question similar to this may have actually been proposed during this year’s Hall of Fame election meetings, even though the expected answer may seem commonplace to most who have followed the recent “Steroid Era” allegations.
The main problem derived from the Steroid Era is that everyone was doing it. If everyone was using performance-enhancing drugs, what do you do if you’re the Baseball Hall of Fame? Here come several candidates who look great on paper but cheated.
Cooperstown hasn’t faced a decision quite like this one, and next year’s Hall of Fame ballots will be strikingly difficult to decide as Sosa, all-time home run leader Barry Bonds and former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens — all of whom have been condemned for possible performance-enhancing drug use — become ballot-eligible for the first time.
Personally, the decisions these players allegedly made affect their chances of entering the Hall of Fame, and if I had a vote, I wouldn’t give it to Bonds, Clemens, McGwire or Sosa. But as McGwire continues to get some votes each year, the new round of possible performance-enhancing ballplayers will garner votes too.
A year before Larkin and McGwire entered the league, the leaguewide batting average was .252. In the height of the Steroid Era, it rose nearly 8 percent to .273, and now, 14 years later, the average has slipped back down to .253 in 2011.
There can’t be a more obvious statistic than that, and from now on, future Hall of Fame elections will involve some gutsy decisions or none at all.
Larkin is the last of a dying breed, and it will take at least a decade for there to be a ballot full of Barry Larkins once again.