Last summer, I had a chance to chat with Barry Larkin for 20 minutes or so at Fenway when he was in town with ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" traveling road show. I wish I'd had the sense to publish the full Q&A here on TATB, because he was just as friendly and articulate as you surely heard yesterday when he was getting his due praise for his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He'd easily rank in my top five favorite interviews since taking over the media beat roughly three years ago.
When I asked Larkin then about his probable election this year, he wouldn't bite beyond some generalities-- I almost got the sense he was superstitious about it, like he didn't want to jinx himself. He deftly dodged that question like a runner barreling into second while he was in the middle of turning two, but he was engaging and insightful with every other question.
It was, however, his shortest answer that I'll always remember, and with a chuckle. When I asked him about any personal memories he has of Fenway, in particular the 1999 All-Star Game. That night Pedro Martinez was as good as he ever was, striking out five of the first six National League hitters, including Larkin leading off the game. Larkin considered the question, then, with a look on his face as if he were back in the batter's box and the moment, shook his head and smiled. "No. Chance,'' he said of his fortunes that night against Pedro. "No chance."
I'm happy Barry Larkin, a wonderful player who certainly seems to meet a similar standard as a person, is headed to the Hall of Fame. But we probably never would have figured 13 years ago, when Pedro blew away Larkin, Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell in those first two innings, that he'd have been the first among that potent group elected.
Just for the sport of it, here are thoughts on nine other players who received votes in this year's balloting. Some will get in in the coming years. Others have ... No. Chance.
1. Lee Smith (50.6 percent of the vote): Closer referendum: Gossage, yes. Sutter, evict him. Rivera, unanimously if such a thing ever happened. Smoltz, yes, with some similarity to the Eck's case. Hoffman, yes. Smith? Nope. Just an above-average accumulator, and one whose career rWAR (29.7) is below that of one-and-done candidates Brian Jordan and Brad Radke, among many others who will not approach Cooperstown.
2. Tim Raines (48.7 percent): No, he wasn't Rickey. But he was the next best thing, and his leap from 37.5 percent this year is an encouraging sign that Cooperstown will eventually call. I'll start my lineup with his.294/.385/.425, 170 homers and 880 steals rather than Lou Brock's .293/.343/.410 with 149 homers and 938 steals every single game. Brock, by the way, was elected with 79.7 percent of the vote in 1985, his first year of eligibility.
3. Edgar Martinez, 36.5 percent: You don't see too many pictures of Martinez with a glove on his left hand, and his status as essentially a career-long designated hitter hurts him in the eyes of many voters. Which is a shame -- this is one of the best all-around hitters in the history of the game. Skeptical? OK. I'll spot you Martinez's name, and you go look up the other 19 hitters who had a batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400, and a slugging percentage over .500.
4. Fred McGriff (23.9 percent): When I mentioned who I'd vote for in yesterday's post, several of you wrote to plead McGriff's candidacy. He did surpass Mark McGwire in the voting this year, and maybe he deserves more consideration with 493 homers and not a hint of scandal.
5. Dale Murphy (14.5 percent): He might have been the best player in baseball at his peak from 1982-85, when he won two National League MVP awards and led the league in homers the two seasons in that window in which he didn't win the hardware. But after 14 years on the ballot, you know why he's not getting in: short peak, rapid decline.
6. Bill Mueller (0.7 percent): I'm not a huge fan of giving a player a sentimental vote, though maybe I'm just bitter because Butch Hobson was never on the ballot. But if you're going to give one to any player in Red Sox history, I have no qualms with it being Dave Roberts or the steady guy who drove him in.
7. Tim Salmon (0.9 percent): Thought he might get a couple more votes given his 299 homers, .884 career OPS, and his status as was one of those face-of-the-franchise types with the Angels. Then again, his top career comp, David Justice, got just 0.2 percent of the vote in his one year on the ballot in '08.
8. Javy Lopez (0.2 percent): Whoever voted for him clearly was not familiar with his fine portrayal of a catcher suffering from early-onset rigor mortis with the 2006 Red Sox.
9. As for today's Completely Random Baseball card:
A doff of the cap to readers @JTrudell and @emcgon, who were quick to name-check Mr. Alfaro when I joked on Twitter yesterday upon the announcement that Barry Larkin had been elected to the Hall of Fame that I still think Oddibe McDowell will be the best big leaguer from the stacked 1984 US Olympic baseball team. (OK -- wasn't joking.) Alfaro shared shortstop on that team with Larkin, but his career ended just as the Reds great's was beginning. Traded by the Braves to the Brewers after one year at Single A in which he hit .193/.344/.272, Alfaro quit pro ball because he wasn't happy that Milwaukee was going to assign him to a low-level team. Hmmm. Seems like when you slug .272 in Single A, you should probably go wherever your glove takes you.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.