Barry Larkin was a Cincinnati Red from start to finish.
His career with the team spanned 18 seasons and reached a peak Sunday when the former standout shortstop became one of the newest members of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Playing for the Reds was a dream come true for the Cincinnati native, but Sunday’s experience was even more gratifying for Larkin, who called his inclusion into the prestigious Hall the “ultimate validation.”
It was a worthy accomplishment for a shortstop deserving of one of baseball’s biggest honors bestowed on a player.
Larkin grew up watching the Big Red Machine, anchored by Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Sparky Anderson, win back-to-back World Series titles in 1975-76. At the time, Larkin was “dreaming about the honor of playing for the Reds and the city of Cincinnati.” His childhood vision was the equivalent of Kentuckians who aspire to play basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats.
A decade after watching the Reds capture the last of back-to-back championships, Larkin made his debut with the Reds. His first manager was Rose, who loaned Larkin his bat, glove and shoes to use in his first official Major League game. Rose, ineligible for the hall because of his banishment from the sport, had a big hand in Larkin’s path to Cooperstown.
Rose stuck with Larkin in the early going and gave him a chance to succeed in the big leagues, a decision that changed Larkin’s professional career forever.
Throughout his playing career, Larkin, who idolized his predecessor Dave Concepcion, achieved one honor after another and added memories to his list of accomplishments.
The dream of playing for the Reds became an afterthought for Larkin after he helped lead Cincinnati to a four-game sweep of Oakland in the 1990 World Series. The photograph of Larkin celebrating after winning the title remains one of the most memorable images in team history.
Later in his career, Larkin was named captain of his hometown team. He was named to the National League All-Star team 12 times and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1995. A noted fielder, Larkin won three Gold Glove Awards and received nine Silver Slugger Awards.
More than his individual accolades, Larkin was a team player, remained humble throughout his career and never forgot his roots. Even Sunday as he joined the likes of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Morgan, Perez, Bench and Anderson in Major League Baseball’s most exclusive club, Larkin remained thankful as he recalled the Reds’ World Series championship nearly 22 years ago.
“The championship wasn’t just for the players, but it was yours, too — the fans, the Reds fans,” he said.
Just as Larkin followed the Big Red Machine, I followed Larkin’s career and was amazed at his talents, both on and off the field, and recall his dedication to Reds.
Unlike many players of his generation, Larkin never switched uniforms and remained loyal to the team that gave him a chance.
The Reds returned the favor. No player has worn jersey No. 11 since Larkin’s retirement.