Hall of Fame rolls out Red carpet for Larkin
Shortstop bestowed with baseball's highest honor on third try
CINCINNATI -- Barry Larkin will always remember what happened at 2:53 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Especially since he was almost convinced it wouldn't happen.
Larkin was told ahead of time that if he was going to be elected to the Hall of Fame, a call would come by 1:30 p.m. Then he was told it would be 2:30, with the formal announcement coming at 3 p.m.
Well, 2:30 came and went and there had been no call -- even as television cameras were on standby outside his Orlando, Fla., home.
Then came 2:53.
"Everyday life had just started again," Larkin said. "I was walking from the kitchen to go turn on the TV and the phone rings. I look at it and I kind of freeze almost like I was stunned, almost a deer-in-headlights kind of look. ... I just kind of sat there. My wife and my kids looked at me like, 'Well, are you going to get the phone? It's probably for you.'"
It was indeed. It was Jack O'Connell from the Baseball Writers' Association of America on the other side to inform Larkin that he, in fact, was a Baseball Hall of Famer. Despite all of his credentials on the field, Larkin still called the moment a surprise
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' I could not believe it," Larkin said. "I could not believe I was hearing it. The out-of-body experience for me was sitting there, looking at the phone [saying], 'Oh my goodness.' It's starting to sink in but this has been absolutely incredible."
Larkin, the great Reds shortstop, was the only player elected Monday after he received 495 of 573 votes, or 86.4 percent of the ballot. The minimum threshold for election is 75 percent of ballots cast by members of the BBWAA.
While he was not a shoo-in, it still wasn't a large leap of faith to believe the 47-year-old Larkin would become a member of the 2012 Hall class his third time on the ballot. He's trended solidly upward the first two years, having received 51.6 percent of the vote the first time and jumping to 62.1 percent last year.
Larkin is the 24th shortstop to be elected to the Hall and the 11th by the BBWAA. He is also only the 48th Hall of Fame player out of 297 members to spend his entire career with one club and just the third Red besides Johnny Bench and Bid McPhee.
Even though Cincinnati is heralded for having the first professional baseball team -- in 1869 -- Larkin is the first native Greater Cincinnatian to gain election to the Hall. Others -- like pitcher Jim Bunning -- entered via the Veterans Committee.
"Obviously I wouldn't have been the first if Pete [Rose] was allowed in," Larkin said. "I understand that. I think it's something to celebrate. All I know is the appreciation. All I think about is how am I going to celebrate this with Reds fans? This, in my opinion, is something huge and I want to celebrate this with them. I hope I represent the city well when I do make my speech. I have certainly tried to represent the city well as a person and as a player and [in] my post-playing career."
Larkin grew up on the outskirts of Cincinnati in Silverton, Ohio, with his parents, Robert and Shirley. His older brother, Byron, went on to be a great basketball player for Xavier University. His younger brother, Stephen, had a very brief one-day big league career with the Reds.
"My dad got me involved in sports," Barry Larkin said. "My mother drove me with homegrown 'you better do right or else' and the right way to respect folks, respect the game, respect everything that you do, the importance of education.
"To their credit, they always put me in a situation that it was a nice environment for me learning and being protected and feeling good to become the best whatever it is I could be."
The Larkins sent Barry to famed Moeller High School, where he also starred in football and earned a football scholarship to the University of Michigan as a defensive back. Larkin was also drafted in the second round by the Reds that year, 1982, but turned them down to go to school.
Larkin's football career proved to be shortlived.
"[Coach] Bo Schembechler allows me to just play baseball for the first time in life," Larkin said. "That was my freshman year in college. I got a lot better. I decided at that time I was going to just pursue baseball and try to get better."
By 1985, Larkin was a first-round pick by the Reds and this time, he signed. By the time he debuted in the Majors on Aug. 13, 1986, the Reds still had the great Davey Concepcion and another player named Kurt Stillwell. Eventually Concepcion shifted to third base and Stillwell was gone by 1988.
Larkin went on to play 19 seasons -- all with the Reds -- from 1986-2004. He had a lifetime average of .295 with 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits, a .371 on-base percentage and 379 stolen bases. He was also a 12-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, a nine-time Silver Slugger winner, a member of the 1990 World Series championship team and the 1995 National League Most Valuable Player.
In 1996, Larkin became the first shortstop in Major League history to be a 30-30 player when he had 33 homers and 36 steals during that season. Outside of the numbers, Larkin was also considered a man with intangibles and leadership. He was honored with the role of team captain in 1997.
"Barry was the most complete shortstop in the National League during his era," teammate Eric Davis said. "He could do everything."
Because of the timing of his career and that he played in a small media market, Larkin was often overlooked among some of his contemporaries -- like Cal Ripken Jr. and defensive genius Ozzie Smith.
But like Ripken, Larkin helped usher in an era when shortstops could be as strong with a bat as they were with a glove. He is one of only two shortstops ever to record at least 2,000 hits, 150 homers and 300 stolen bases -- with the other being current Yankees great Derek Jeter.
Larkin's lifetime average was 39 points higher than the .256 cumulative average of shortstops in his era. His on-base percentage was 54 points higher than the era's cumulative .317.
In the on-base-plus-slugging category (OPS), Larkin's .815 mark was better than both Ripken (.788), Smith (.666) and another Hall of Famer, Robin Yount (.772).
"When I think of Barry, I think of a steady, smart and terrific all-around player both at shortstop and at the plate," Ripken said. "I wish we had played in the same league, but we were in 11 All-Star Games together and I always enjoyed being around him and talking baseball."
Oddly, Larkin thought of himself more as a "complementary player." Not many of those types are in Cooperstown.
"I feel like Hall of Fame players kind of have 'a thing' that they bring to the field every single day," Larkin said. "It's like they have a package and this is what you have to deal with -- be it power or Rickey Henderson and his speed. There's one thing about a player that really defines him and you say, 'All right, this is what you're going to have to deal with.' You look at Albert Pujols, we're not going to let him beat you. On our team, that guy was never me."
Larkin will join the late Cubs great Ron Santo as a 2012 Hall of Famer when the two are inducted into the Hall in Cooperstown on July 22. Santo, who died last year, was elected last month by the special Golden Era committee.
Ever so humble and appreciative as he made the media rounds about becoming a baseball immortal, Larkin doesn't know what he will say in his induction day speech.
There's a good chance that several of the people he thought about Monday could be included. Larkin remembered the many people that helped get him to Cooperstown. He recalled Rose, his first manager, teaching him about hustle and playing the game the right way. He remembered teammate Buddy Bell taking him to Dodger Stadium to make him smell the natural grass. Concepcion was the one who helped teach him how to play the Astroturf at Riverfront Stadium. And even though Larkin would be taking his job, Concepcion took him to his house for dinner. Davis invited a young Larkin to his home in Los Angeles to work out in the offseason.
"I have been so blessed because I have been in so many situations with such good people," Larkin said, "people that care and people that really extended themselves to make sure I was taken care of."