Friday, January 7, 2011

Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell and the golden age of shortstops

Alan Trammell in 1987 hit
.343 with 28 homers, 109 runs
and 105 RBIs for a division
winners— and lost the MVP
to George Bell. Ridiculous.
In the spirit of good will toward all, I've been trying to deduce why the writers have twice bypassed Barry Larkin for the Hall of Fame.  For that matter, I've been stumped for even longer by the same question as regards Alan Trammell.

Larkin was the superior player, but both were far better than several of the shortstops already enshrined in Cooperstown.

Larkin did miss the equivalent of about two seasons in his prime to a series of injuries —a half season here, two weeks there, a month over there — but he was one of the most well-rounded players in history. He did everything well.

Except, perhaps, time his career.

Trammell, I think, suffers in comparison to his contemporaries Cal Ripken and Robin Yount. Both were better hitters — not that Trammell was a slouch at the dish -- and until Yount moved to the outfield, Trammell was never better than the third best shortstop in the American League. It's rather akin to Duke Snider, who was the third best centerfielder in New York City in the 1950s. Snider was great, but Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were greater still.
Barry Larkin won just one
Gold Glove, but there was this
fellow in St. Louis ...

And then there's Larkin.

Larkin's first season as a regular was 1987. Ripken was in his prime and Ozzie Smith and Trammell were getting ripped off in the MVP votes (both finished second to "run producing" outfielders who didn't really generate more offense). (Yount had already become an outfielder.)

By the end of Larkin's tenure, we had the Trinity (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Normar Garciaparra) — plus Miguel Tejada winning an MVP, Omar Vizquel winning 11 Gold Gloves, and the rise of Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera, who have both had pretty distinguished careers.

No matter who you want to put in the top 10 all time shortstops, no matter how you want to order them, I would say at least half of them have to overlap with Barry Larkin's career. At least. I might go so high as eight of the 10.

And one of them is Barry Larkin. Trammell might be too. If he's not, he's real close.

Larkin figures to win induction in 2012. Trammell, not so much. He and Tim Raines appear to be the biggest blind spots in the electorate right now. Some would say the voters' anti-steroid stance is, but I view that as a work in progress. They're arguing that one, pro and con. Raines and Trammell are just being overlooked.

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