COOPERSTOWN–It took only a few minutes for Barry Larkin to tear up as he began thanking the family and former teammates with the Cincinnati Reds who helped the hometown kid make good for 19 years in the big leagues and lifted him to election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Crying a little bit is par for the course on induction Sunday on the grounds behind the Clark Sports Center. It is almost as big a tradition as the return of Hall of Famers–what member Joe Morgan calls the most exclusive fraternity in sports–to bask in the admiration of those who love the game.
Seated on the temporary stage behind Larkin were 45 of the 65 living Hall of Famers, plus Commissioner Bud Selig, Vicki Santo, widow of former Chicago Cubs star Ron Santo, also being inducted, Jane Forbes Clark, chairwoman of the Hall of Fame, and the hall’s president Jeff Idelson. Larkin’s acceptance speech resembled that of an Academy Award winner in that he took the time to thank everyone who made a difference in his life, from his parents, wife and daughters, to youth coaches and Reds mentors ranging from Pete Rose and Tony Perez to Buddy Bell.
Larkin, 48, is a rarity. He grew up in the town where he played Major League ball and he spent his entire career with one team. It really is a case of the hometown boy making good and Cincinnati fans came out in force to celebrate with him. Larkin looked dapper in a business suit — he always did fill out his suit of choice well.
Always a great athlete, it is intriguing that Larkin did not fully apply his skills to baseball until after he enrolled at the University of Michigan. He intended to play football, but even then-coach Bo Schembechler steered him to that other spring sport. One year Larkin was playing for the Wolverines, the next year he was drafted, and a year later he was a member of the Reds. Even Larkin said he still had a lot to learn after that whirlwind.
Larkin found it easier working his way up from the minors than he did actually joining the Reds when called up. It was one of those famous American plane stories, with delays in numerous cities, of course including O’Hare in Chicago, along the way, and while he barely made it by game time, Larkin’s luggage did not.
Waiting for his arrival was manager Pete Rose.
“Larkin, it’s your first day in the big leagues and you’re already late,” Rose teased him.
When he asked Larkin if he was equipped to play, the rookie had to admit he had no bat, glove or shoes. Rose lent him a pair of shoes and told him to pick any size bat he wanted. After his debut, Larkin thought the materials were his to keep and planned to bring them home and save them as souvenirs since, after all, they belonged to Rose, one of his boyhood Reds heroes.
“They were going in the car,” Larkin said. “They weren’t going to see the light of day.”
Not so fast, rook. Rose asked how all of the equipment worked for him and after Larkin said, “Awesome,” Rose said, “G0od, give them back. Your stuff will be here tomorrow.”
One by one older players took him aside and gave Larkin advice, preparing him to be a leader on the team. He absorbed those lessons well, making 12 All-Star teams. Larkin hit .300 nine times and his lifetime average in a career that concluded in 2004 is .295. He collected 2,340 hits and had 379 stolen bases. He won a startling nine Silver Slugger Awards as the best hitter among shortstops and three Gold Gloves.
Larkin, who has been the featured figure at several press conferences this past week is lucky he wasn’t hoarse. But he talks as slickly as he fielded and at the end of his long induction day, as his plaque was installed in the Hall building, he was still going strong.
Besides Reds Hall of Famers Perez, Johnny Bench, Morgan and Frank Robinson on the stage, one of Larkin’s closest friends, outfielder Eric Davis, was in attendance in the crowd and he was also a major player in a highlights video of Larkin’s career.
“It was just as exciting for me,” Davis said, as it was for Larkin when Larkin’s acceptance was announced.
When Larkin was introduced Sunday, some of the many Reds fans in the crowd who showed their allegiance wearing team caps and jerseys, began chanting, “Ba-rry! Ba-rry!”
Larkin did not forget Reds fans among those he praised and thanked and late in his speed a fan bellowed, “We love you, Barry!” Larkin barely paused and responded, “We love you, too, my man.”
It was just a small part of the Barry Larkin days-long lovefest in this small village in upstate New York. Sunday was the culmination of Larkin being welcomed him into that club Morgan so eloquently described.
Topics: All-Star Team, Barry Larkin, Baseball Hall Of Fame, Bo Schembechler, Bud Selig, Buddy Bell, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Clark Sports Center, Cooperstown, Eric Davis, Frank Robinson, Gold Gloves, Jane Forbes Clark, Jeff Idelson, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, O'Hare International Airport, Pete Rose, Ron Santo, Silver Slugger Award, Tony Perez, University Of Michigan, Vicki Santo, Wolverines