Barry Larkin combined his speed, power, and defense to become one of the best major league shortstops of the 1990s.
A lifetime member of his hometown Cincinnati Reds, Larkin helped to lead the Reds back to the World Series after the “Big Red Machine” had faded, becoming one of the team’s most iconic players and leaders.
Larkin helped usher in a new brand of major league shortstop.
Traditional shortstops were often short, defense-first players who batted in the bottom third of their team’s lineup.
Standing six feet tall with a larger, muscular physique, Larkin helped to revolutionize the position and the game itself starting in the 1980s and ’90s, landing himself in the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Barry Larkin, 1990 @Reds pic.twitter.com/cf2o8mCbop
— Vintage Jerseys & Hats (@PolyesterUnis) November 22, 2021
Early Life/High School
Barry Louis Larkin was born April 28, 1964, in Cincinnati, Ohio to parents Shirley and Robert Larkin.
He was raised in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Silverton, where NFL great Roger Staubach grew up two decades before.
One of five children, Barry played sports as a kid with his family including his brother Byron, who would become Xavier University’s all-time leading scorer in basketball, and Stephen Larkin, who would also make an appearance in Major League Baseball with the Reds.
The Larkin boys spent most of their time outside playing games of 21 before going into the basement after dark to shoot nerf guns at each other.
An athletic-minded family, the Larkins also instilled values in their children by encouraging them to help the less fortunate and the family would help at homeless shelters during the holidays.
A two-sport athlete in baseball and football, Larkin attended Archbishop Moeller High School, a private, Catholic school in Cincinnati that has also graduated the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and current Reds manager David Bell.
He drew a lot of attention for his performance in both sports and had not only major league scouts attending his high school games but collegiate football programs as well.
A shortstop on the baseball team and a defensive back on the football team, Larkin impressed with his speed, general athletic ability, and killer instincts.
He set a school record at Moeller with a career batting average of .482.
Mike Cameron was head coach of the Moeller Crusaders varsity baseball team for 39 years (1969-2007).
Upon Larkin’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012, Cameron noted:
“Barry was very well scouted. I was very comfortable that Barry was going to get a chance to be a Major League Player.”
The Reds drafted the Cincinnati native in the second round of the 1982 draft, but Larkin turned them down to take a football scholarship from the University of Michigan and prestigious coach Bo Schembechler.
“The first time he was drafted by the Reds, it was pretty well determined that he was going to go to college at Michigan. His mother wanted him to go, and he went.”
Upon entering the University of Michigan on a football scholarship, head coach Bo Schembechler promised the multi-talented Larkin he could play both football and baseball.
When the Wolverines red-shirted Larkin his freshman year, Larkin left the team and decided to focus on playing baseball.
In his freshman season at Michigan, Larkin was the starting shortstop.
Larkin immediately saw success at Michigan, as the Wolverines made it to the 1983 College World Series.
He won the 1983 Big Ten Tournament Player of the Year and made the Baseball America Freshman First Team.
The 1984 season was perhaps even more successful for Larkin, as Michigan made another College World Series appearance, and he led the team with a .363 batting average and played excellent defense at shortstop.
Barry Larkin, University of Michigan Wolverines pic.twitter.com/FLqvFeWTTC
— OldTimeHardball (@OleTimeHardball) October 22, 2020
He was named the 1984 Big Ten Player of the Year and American Baseball Coaches Association First Team All-American.
These accomplishments were not enough for Larkin, as he made the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team.
This proved to be a struggle for the young sophomore, however, and he was not granted the playing time he thought he deserved due to his age.
Larkin continued his outstanding collegiate play the following year, where he won Michigan’s team MVP Award, racked up another Big Ten Player of the Year, and another All-American selection.
Once again, the Wolverines made the College World Series but lost to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Larkin’s impressive collegiate career was coming to an end at this point, and he turned his attention to his dream of playing baseball in the Major Leagues.
The Reds again drafted Larkin in 1985, this time in the first round.
June 2, 1985: With the fourth overall pick in the MLB Draft, the Cincinnati Reds select shortstop Barry Larkin from the University of Michigan. #RedsVault
(📸 @UMichAthletics) pic.twitter.com/hKwA7cO60G
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) June 3, 2021
Long-time Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion was about to retire, and who better to take his place than the Cincinnati-raised collegiate superstar Larkin?
He reported to the Vermont Reds in 1985 along with his Michigan teammate Chris Sabo, also drafted by the Reds.
His minor league career was short-lived, but only because he continued his dominance on the diamond.
His Reds won the 1985 Eastern League Championship and in 1986 Larkin earned Player of the Year honors with the Denver Zephyrs.
Larkin would only play 177 games in the minors before being called up to the big league Reds on August 13th of that year.
Playing under Reds’ player-manager and fellow Cincinnatian Pete Rose, Larkin had his first at-bat in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants and drove in a run, his first as a Major League player.
Entering the 1987 campaign, Larkin found himself amid a competitive battle for starting shortstop with Kurt Stillwell.
Larkin worked hard and confided in his teammates who motivated him.
Those are strong words to say to somebody like Pete Rose, but Larkin had the confidence and skill level to back it up.
Larkin would become the Reds’ shortstop for the next two decades.
The late 1980s saw great success for Larkin, but he struggled as well.
He struck out the fewest times of any player in 1988, but also led the National League in errors manning Cincinnati’s astroturfed Riverfront Stadium.
He made the all-star team in both 1988 (played in Riverfront) and in 1989, as well as winning Silver Sluggers both years.
Larkin also showed remarkable base-running abilities, becoming one of the National League’s premier base-stealing threats.
He would miss the second half of the 1989 season with a torn ligament in his elbow.
In 1990, the Reds went wire-to-wire to win their first World Series since 1975, the Big Red Machine era.
In a massive upset sweep of the Oakland Athletics, Larkin proved pivotal, hitting .393 and earning his first and only World Series ring.
As the early ’90s progressed, Larkin began standing out as one of the game’s best and most consistent shortstops.
He had improved in every facet of his game, including his formerly below-average defense.
In 1991, Larkin hit 20 home runs, a career-high to that point, and won another Silver Slugger and all-star selection.
In an era when shortstops were known more for their defense and speed, Larkin helped to expand the notion that shortstops could be bigger, stronger, and hit for power, something that Cal Ripken Jr., had been proving in the American League with the Baltimore Orioles.
As the Reds failed to make another World Series in 1991, Larkin began to question the Reds’ commitment to winning but ultimately accepted a five-year, $25.6 million deal from his hometown team after they made other signings to improve the club.
He became the highest-paid shortstop in Major League Baseball.
This deal would prove successful for both Larkin and the Reds in the short-term and long term.
Larkin won his fifth consecutive Silver Slugger in 1992 and the Roberto Clemente Award in 1993.
Building upon the values instilled in him as a boy by his parents, Larkin won the award based on his community service, sportsmanship, and performance.
In 1995, a season that saw him hit .319 and steal 51 bases, he would become the first shortstop since 1962 to win an MVP Award.
November 15, 1995: Barry Larkin is named NL MVP after already earning both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove at shortstop. He batted .319, stole 51 bases, recorded a .980 fielding percentage and was named an All-Star while leading the Reds to the NL Central crown. 🐐 #RedsVault pic.twitter.com/Dc32ZLuEWQ
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) November 15, 2021
Always striving to be better, Larkin followed his 1995 MVP campaign to become baseball’s first-ever 30-30 shortstop (30 home runs, 30 stolen bases) in 1996.
September 22, 1996: Barry Larkin slugs his 30th homer to become the first shortstop in MLB history to join the 30-30 Club! #RedsVault pic.twitter.com/arSkRtgnnl
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) September 22, 2021
After a decade of elite performance, the Reds named Larkin the captain of the team, but the relationship between the two was beginning to sour.
The Reds were initiating a rebuilding phase and had begun trading veteran players to save money and acquire prospects.
Larkin did not feel he belonged on a rebuilding team, and he removed the “C” on his uniform that designated him as the team’s captain before a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998.
Larkin was dismayed at the trade of infielder Lenny Harris to the New York Mets.
“Harris was the alternate captain. We lost some of the heart out of our team by trading Lenny. That was my reaction. This is not a protest. He was the guy on this team that I called captain, so away went the ‘C.’ It’s no big deal.” he said.
Though he requested a trade to a contending team earlier in 1998, Larkin found continued success on the diamond, winning another Silver Slugger in 1998 and another in 1999, coupled with another start on the National League’s All-Star team.
Larkin’s nine Silver Sluggers would be the most ever for a shortstop.
The Reds won 97 games in 1999, narrowly missing the postseason, but made a one-game playoff with the Mets in 2000.
Larkin declined a trade to the Mets midway through 2000 and opted to sign a three-year, $27 million extension with the Reds.
The 2000 season would see Larkin make another All-Star team.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Larkin was hampered by injury and missed a large chunk of games over the years.
In 2004, his last season, Larkin made his final All-Star team and hit .289.
He played his last game with the Reds in his hometown on October 3rd and announced his retirement in February of 2005.
Life after Baseball
Barry Larkin finished his impressive Major League career with 70 wins above replacement (WAR), sandwiched between Hall of Fame shortstops Joe Cronin and Derek Jeter.
He had a career .295 batting average, 198 home runs, and 2,340 hits.
Larkin’s legacy is strong.
Cincinnati born and raised, Larkin spent his entire career with the Reds, a rare feat in today’s game, and helped bring another World Series to the Queen City and baseball’s first professional franchise.
Like fellow Cincinnatians Pete Rose and Ken Griffey Jr., Larkin remains a legend in his home city.
Larkin has kept busy post-baseball and has thrown his hat into multiple interests and jobs inside and outside of baseball.
Following his retirement in 2005, Larkin joined his former general manager Jim Bowden in Washington, serving as a special assistant to the GM for the Nationals, who had just moved from Montreal to Washington, D.C.
Larkin’s on- and off-field knowledge would be coveted by multiple television networks as well.
In 2008, Larkin signed onto the newly formed MLB Network as a studio analyst, and he left the Nationals in 2011 to join ESPN as an analyst for the popular “Baseball Tonight.”
In addition to television and front office work, Larkin has been involved in coaching and player development.
He joined the United States’ team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic as their bench coach and even managed one game due to his former manager Davey Johnson’s absence to attend a wedding.
In 2013, the Brazilian Baseball Federation invited Larkin to manage Brazil’s national team in that year’s edition of the World Baseball Classic.
Brazil exited the tournament following the first round but qualified for the Classic for the first time.
Recognizing the significance of Larkin’s outstanding 19-year career, his front office work, and his recent experience as a bench coach and manager in two World Baseball Classics, the Detroit Tigers reached out to Larkin to interview for their managerial position in 2013.
Larkin declined due to time constraints and the want to spend more time at home with his family.
The Tigers were not the only team interested in Larkin’s services, as the Tampa Bay Rays interviewed Larkin for their opening in 2014.
Kevin Cash ultimately got the job, but Larkin’s continued interest in coaching was met with mutual interest from his former team, the Cincinnati Reds.
Larkin was brought on by the Reds in 2015 as a minor league instructor, helping player development in all levels of the Reds’ minor league system.
This role, combined with Larkin’s recent managerial interviews and adoration among Reds fans has created much speculation about whether Larkin will ever become the Reds’ manager. Responding to this speculation, Larkin commented:
“Never say never. The conditions have to be right and, you know, the manager’s job, at least in my opinion, is not about just having the manager’s position. It’s about having the support system to support that manager’s position.”
Larkin joined the Reds’ broadcasting team in early 2021 as a color analyst after six seasons as a minor league instructor, a position he still holds as of now.
For his achievements on the field, Larkin has been widely honored by multiple teams and organizations.
The University of Michigan, Larkin’s alma mater, inducted him in 2007 to their Athletic Hall of Honor, and he was also inducted to the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
Just three years after his retirement from the team in 2005, the Reds inducted Larkin into their team Hall of Fame in 2008, and in 2012 retired his number 11 in a ceremony at Great American Ballpark.
He was also inducted in 2009 to the National College Baseball Hall of Fame by the College Baseball Foundation.
In 2012, Larkin received the greatest honor a baseball could get when he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in just his third year of eligibility, becoming the eighth Cincinnati Red to receive the honor.
While Larkin’s life story is far from over, he has solidified himself not only as a great player in the big leagues but a role model and coach, not only in baseball but in life.
From learning Spanish to better communicate with his teammates and prospects he helps coach, to being a vocal voice in the Black Lives Matter movement and detailing the hardships that black players endure, to being a leader and instructor that has helped teach some of baseball’s greatest current stars, Larkin remains an ambassador for the game of baseball in Cincinnati, the United States, and around the world.
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