NEW YORK (AP) — Barry Larkin received 51.6 percent of the votes when he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2010, then got 62.1 percent last year.
With no shoo-ins among this year's new candidates, he was the leading contender to gain election when voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America was announced Monday.
"It's a shot of immortality. The best of the game in the history — in the history of the game," he said. "To be emblazoned into that history of the game is a tremendous honor."
A player needs at least 75 percent to gain election. A 12-time All-Star and the 1995 NL MVP, Larkin fell 75 votes short as Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were elected last year.
"I certainly have some anxiety about it, but not really nervous. I have a great perspective on it," Larkin said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I had a chance to speak to Jim Rice, who got inducted on his 15th time, and he really put me at comfort and ease and said, 'You know, it's really out of our hands, and there's nothing we can really do about it. We don't campaign for it, and it is what it is.'"
Spending his entire major league career with the Cincinnati Reds from 1986-04, Larkin hit .295 with 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits and 379 stolen bases. He won three Gold Gloves and the 1990 World Series.
He had hoped to return for a 20th season in 2005 at age 40, but retired after the Reds told him they didn't want him back.
"In 2005, I wasn't really sure if I was completely done playing. I still had that question," he said. "I don't have that anymore. I know it's the right move. It was the right decision. It was time to move on."
And because he retired then, he can join one of baseball's most select groups. Of the 206 former big leaguers selected for the Hall, just 47 spent their entire careers with a single major league team and only two with the Reds: Johnny Bench and Bid McPhee.
Larkin misses the camaraderie of spending 7 1/2 months a year with teammates but remains around ballparks. He broadcast for the MLB Network from 2009-10, then moved to ESPN last year. He's a spring training instructor for the Reds, and has gone to South Korea and Brazil as an envoy for Major League Baseball and the State Department.
"So I'm always on the field or talking about it," he said. "I still get an opportunity to go out there and take a ground ball off my chin every once in a while."
A day after the announcement, the Hall of Fame holds a news conference in New York for anyone voted in. Even if he failed to get the necessary percentage, Larkin will be in Manhattan, to help his 16-year-old daughter CymcoLe put together a music video. She's performs what he says is a combination of R&B, hip-hop and pop, and they shot footage last week in a Florida aircraft hangar. They plan to get footage at Times Square and the Empire State Building.
That's taken precedence over focusing on his Hall chances.
"Everybody is so involved in launching my daughter's career and no one is sitting around and really thinking about it," he said.
If elected, he would be inducted on July 22 at Cooperstown, N.Y., along with the late Ron Santo, elected last month by the Veterans Committee.
Also among the holdovers are Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Jeff Bagwell. A relatively weak group of newcomers includes former AL batting champions Bernie Williams and Bill Mueller.
Morris, the winningest pitcher of the 1980s but burdened by a 3.90 career ERA, received 53.5 percent on his 12th try last year, up from 52.3 in 2010 and 22.2 percent in his initial appearance. Players are eligible to appear on the writers' ballot for up to 15 years, and his chances might decrease in future years because the ballot will get crowded with high-profile stars.
The 2013 ballot figures to be the most controversial, with seven-time MVP Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens eligible for the first time along with Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa have been implicated in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, allegations they have denied.
Mark McGwire, 10th on the career home run list with 583, received 19.8 percent of the vote last year in his fifth try on the ballot, down from 23.7 in 2010 — a vote before he admitted using steroids and human growth hormone.
Rafael Palmeiro, among just four players with 500 homers and 3,000 hits along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, was on just 11 percent of the ballots last year in his first appearance. He received a 10-day suspension in 2005 for a positive test, claiming it was due to a vitamin vial given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada. Juan Gonzalez, a two-time AL MVP implicated by Jose Canseco in steroids use, received 30 votes last year, just above the 5 percent threshold for remaining on the ballot.
Then in 2014, the focus will turn to elite pitchers when Greg Maddux (355 wins) and Tom Glavine (305) become eligible. Among pitchers eligible for the Hall, all 20 of the 300-game winners are in.
But first, the class of 2012.
"I certainly would like to be a part of it, and I really do want it to happen," Larkin said. "But as far as analyzing it and seeing how it's gone down in the past, I've never been that way, so it's no different now."