The chances of getting elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame are pretty slim, but the enshrinement of an athlete who played his entire career for one team is even less likely.
Not only did shortstop Barry Larkin play for just one major league team, he got to do so in the city where he was born and grew up Cincinnati, Ohio. No one can question which team’s cap will be featured on the Hall of Fame plaque that will immortalize his career.
“It was a special relationship. It meant a lot,” Larkin said of his time with the Reds during a conference call Tuesday. “In retrospect, it meant more now than it did when I was playing. When I was playing, it was about winning championships or having the opportunity to play in the postseason and win.”
Larkin admits if he hadn’t had the opportunity to be on a team that continuously won games he may not have stayed in Cincinnati. Now, he said, he is proud he stayed. “My dad could come to every game and I didn’t want to take that away from him,” he said.
The Reds were contenders over several of Larkin’s 19 seasons. They won the World Series in 1990, reached the National League Championship Series in ‘95 and lost a one-game playoff for a postseason berth in ‘99.
Larkin retired after the 2004 season with a .295 career average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs scored and 379 stolen bases. He was elected into the Hall of Fame this year on his third try, receiving 495 votes (86.4 percent).
The three-time Gold Glove winner nearly wasn’t able to finish his career in his hometown, however. In 2000, he blocked a trade to the Mets, a deal he said he would have accepted had New York given him a three-year contract extension. That wasn’t the first time Larkin’s name surfaced in a prospective trade. He almost became a Dodger.
“I think it was ‘99 and we’re out playing in L.A.,” Larkin said, “The clubhouse kid comes over to me and gives me a jersey with ‘Larkin’ on the back. And it’s a Dodgers jersey. I asked ‘What is that?’
“They said, ‘It’s for you,’” Larkin said the kid replied. “’We’re that close to the deal that they told us to make the jersey, because the press conference will take place in a couple of days and they wanted to make sure we were prepared for it.’ I still have the jersey. I had no clue that the Reds were even thinking of trading me to the Dodgers.”
Larkin said being able to play his whole career in Cincinnati was mostly all good. “There’s the added pressure that a guy that plays at home has to deal with, but all that is outweighed by being at home, being comfortable, being ith family,” he said.
“I had tremendous support and great relationships with the fans,” Larkin continued. The hardest time as a hometown player, according to Larkin, was when he first got back to Cincinnati. “I mean it was good being back home, and having all the Reds guys around,” he said.
“But there was some pressure from people I knew. Guys I went to high school with didn’t understand that the competition was a lot harder on the field than it was in high school.”
Baseball was not always Larkin’s passion in life.
“I always thought I would be a football player,” he said. “I was much better at that. I always said I was just an athlete playing baseball.”
Larkin went to Michigan on a football scholarship to play for coach Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines. However, his dream of becoming a standout defensive back was shattered when Schembechler redshirted him as a freshman.
The athlete walked away from football for good when his baseball skills improved that year. “In ’83, that was really the first time I focused on baseball and thought of myself as a baseball player instead of just an athlete playing baseball,” Larkin said.
He became a two-time All-American who appeared in two College World Series. According to Larkin, his experience in Los Angeles on the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team spurred him to try and become “a better player than everybody else.” He played in only three of the team’s five games and batted .143.
“That really upset me, made me tell myself, ‘All right, I’m not playing around anymore. I’m going to be much better. I’m going to make them have to play me,’” Larkin said. “I think that’s when it really clicked for me. After that, I felt like I got a lot better, a lot more focused.”
The Cincinnati Moeller High School graduate said he wanted to go to college, but was torn because his hometown Reds drafted him in the second round of the 1982 draft. He said the ball club offered more than his family
ever dreamed of.
“They were throwing money at me that we had not seen,” he said. “That was really the tough part for me. I remember asking my mom and dad, ‘You guys need this money? Do you want this money?’ They were like, ‘No!’ Once they said no, it was very easy for me to go to college.”
Larkin was drafted again by the Reds in 1985; this time the fourth pick overall. He did not finish college, but said he promised his grandmother he would go back. He held onto that promise and went back to the University of Michigan and earned his degree.
“I went back because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “I do preach education and felt like it was somethingimportant for me to do.”
The 48-year-old, suffering from a head cold, said he hopes he is feeling better by the weekend. He said it will be exciting to step up to the podium and reflect on his career.
“I’m really excited about how many Reds fans are coming, because I’ve heard just about everybody in the world is going to show up,” he said. Larkin said his speech has been done for nearly a month.
“I was very transparent as a player” he said. “My success is reflective of the support I received. And my speech is reflective of that.”
The new inductee said he will not only be emotional for himself, but will be nervous for his daughter, 16-year-old Cymber. She will sing the national anthem at Sunday’s induction ceremony.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s definitely something special, but I’ll be nervous as heck for her,” Larkin said.