Four worthy Hall of Famers (Cont.)
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At the World Series a woman handed out a very nice full-color booklet to promote the Hall of Fame case of Roberto Alomar. I say it was nice because it looked nice ... but it had nothing much inside. A few numbers. A few bland comparisons to Hall of Fame second basemen. To me, it seemed oddly beneath Roberto Alomar's standing -- sort of like handing out a Hank Aaron booklet that makes his Hall of Fame case by pointing out that he hit more home runs than Goose Goslin.
Alomar, to me, has a case as the greatest second baseman since Hornsby. I am not the best person to make that case -- I, of course, happen to think that Joe Morgan is the greatest second baseman since Hornsby. But I could give it a try: Alomar won 10 Gold Gloves -- more than any second baseman -- and I think he was probably slightly better defensively than Morgan. He hit .300 for his career, walked just about as often as he struck out, hit double-digit home runs nine times, stole 30 or more bases eight times and was a terrific postseason player (.313 postseason average, .347 in his two World Series victories). He had his best year at age 33 in Cleveland -- he could have won the MVP that year. He did get traded to the Mets, where he finished off with three uninspiring years, and he retired at 36. So he did not get the number bump that so many players get in their later years.
Still, it's hard to imagine a much better Hall of Fame case -- a great fielding, great hitting, great running second baseman.
But ... I sense no buzz about Alomar's candidacy. I guess there are a couple of reasons for this. There was the spitting incident back in 1996 ... he spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck. And then, post-career, an ex-girlfriend filed a civil suit alleging that Alomar had unprotected sex with her despite having AIDS. Alomar denied that he has AIDS. This, of course, should have nothing at all to do with his Hall of Fame candidacy, but when a player has some sort of controversy swirling around, it probably does affect the way people think about him.
And then ... Alomar seems to be another player who was probably better than many people seemed to think when he was a player. Well, no, that's not exactly right -- he made 12 All-Star Games (10 as a starter) and won all those Gold Gloves and was top 6 MVP five times. So people did know of his brilliance while he was playing. It just seems like he was someone who did not stick in people's minds.
To sum up: Alomar won more Gold Gloves than Sandberg, Mazeroski, White or any other second baseman. He also cracked 2,724 hits -- more than any second baseman since World War II (Craig Biggio got more hits, but he spent quite a bit of time at other positions). He hit more than 500 doubles. He's one of only two players in baseball history to hit .300 with 200 homers and 400 stolen bases -- the other is first ballot Hall of Famer Paul Molitor who, as mentioned, spent most of his career as a DH.
If you want your baseball player who hits, hits with power, gets on base, runs well, plays great defense ... well, hard to imagine how someone could have a much better Hall of Fame case than Roberto Alomar. I think that, unlike Edgar Martinez, he will get voted into the Hall ... but I do wonder how long it will take.
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I remember a few years ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer did a baseball special cover that featured a Hall of Fame plaque for Barry Larkin. This had to be 1996 or so, he was only 32 at the time, and it seemed a bit early to call Larkin a future Hall of Famer. Yes, he won the MVP in 1995, and he'd had a better year in 1996, but it just seemed too soon. I remember telling people then: Let's see how the rest of his career turns out.
As it turned out, he was injured in 1997, he had very good 1998 and 1999 seasons, more injuries in 2000 ... and that really was it for his career. He played four more injury-riddled years during which he mostly bickered with the Cincinnati Reds about money and being treated with respect.
And now I look back at Larkin's career -- well, it's interesting. I spent a lot of time around him in the mid-'90s when I wrote columns in Cincinnati, and I always found him to be a series of contradictions. He grew up in Cincinnati and he played his whole career in Cincinnati, but I never got the sense that he particularly liked Cincinnati. He was obviously charismatic and lucid and interesting when he wanted to be -- there seemed little doubt even that that he had a TV career ahead if he wanted one. But he rarely seemed all that interested in talking. He was the team leader that did not seem to enjoy being the team leader -- and other players did not seem to enjoy it either. It was weird.
As a player, well, Larkin was an amazing player to watch every day. Yes, I cringe when I hear that "you have to see him every day to appreciate him" cliche... but it really was amazing how many times we would be watching from the box and Larkin made a play that left you shaking your head in admiration. I suppose it felt that way because he was such a well-rounded player -- Bill James in the New Historical Abstract called Larkin one of the 10 most complete players in baseball history (italics his). He could do so many different things that could impress you.
Larkin stole 379 bases -- and at remarkable 83 percent success rate.
Larkin never struck out 70 times in a season, and walked 112 more times in his career than he struck out.
Larkin hit double-digit home runs nine times, and as many as 33 in a season.
Larkin finished in the top 10 in batting average four times, runs scored five times, walks three times, stolen bases five times, on-base percentage three times, slugging twice. He won three Gold Gloves. He won the MVP, the Lou Gehrig and the Roberto Clemente Awards. He made 12 All-Star Teams. He hit .353 in his one World Series appearance. And he played with a certain style -- he was just a graceful player. He made great defensive plays without diving, and stole bases with a seeming effortlessness.
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