- 2B, SS, DH
- April 28, 1964
- 185 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-13-1986 with CIN
- Allstar Selections:
- 1988 SS, 1989 SS, 1990 SS, 1991 SS, 1992 SS, 1993 RC, 1994 GG, 1994 LG, 1995 GG, 1995 MVP, 1995 SS, 1996 GG, 1996 SS, 1998 SS, 1999 SS
Barry Larkin had the misfortune of spending the majority of his career playing in the shadow of other great shortstops. Ozzie Smith was considered to be the National League's premier player at the position during Larkin's first several years in the league, while Cal Ripken Jr. held that same distinction in the American League. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra took turns supplanting each other as baseball's top shortstop during the second half of Larkin's career. Still, Larkin was the National League's best all-around player at the position for the better part of his 19-year major league career, surpassing Smith as the senior circuit's preeminent shortstop at the beginning of the 1990s. In fact, even though Smith continued to receive more publicity than Larkin the next several years, the Cincinnati shortstop was clearly the better player. During the decade of the '90s, Larkin batted over .300 seven times, hit more than 20 homers twice, scored more than 100 runs twice, stole more than 30 bases four times, and developed into one of the finest defensive shortstops in baseball.
A classic case of "hometown boy made good," Barry Louis Larkin spent his entire career playing for the team he rooted for as a youngster. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 28, 1964, Larkin was a huge fan of Dave Concepcion and the rest of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine while growing up during the 1970s. In fact, Larkin decided at the age of five that he would someday replace his childhood idol as the team's starting shortstop.
After initially being drafted in the second round by the Reds in 1982, the three-sport star at Queens City's Moeller High School elected instead to attend the University of Michigan. Larkin spent the next three years honing his baseball skills in college, batting .311 as the starting shortstop for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team, before being selected again by the Reds, this time with the fourth overall pick in the 1985 free-agent draft. The talented Larkin spent less than two full years in the minors before he made his major league debut with the Reds on August 13, 1986. He started 34 of the 41 games in which he appeared the remainder of the season, batting .283, scoring 27 runs, and going a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts. Larkin slumped badly during the early stages of the 1987 campaign as he battled fellow prospect Kurt Stillwell for the team's starting shortstop job. However, he eventually righted himself, finishing the year with a respectable .244 batting average, 12 home runs, and 21 stolen bases, thereby prompting the Reds to trade Stilwell to Kansas City in the off-season.
Early Years in Cincinnati:
Firmly entrenched as Cincinnati's starting shortstop, Larkin became a key contributor to the team's offense in his first full season. He ended the 1988 campaign with a .296 batting average, 91 runs scored, and 40 stolen bases, while also leading all major leaguers with only 24 strikeouts in 588 official at-bats. Larkin's solid performance earned him the first of four consecutive trips to the All-Star Game.
The only flaw in Larkin's game at the time was his defense. Although he possessed outstanding range in the field, the young shortstop occasionally performed erratically with the glove, leading all N.L. players at his position with 29 errors. Larkin worked extremely hard on his defense and, after missing almost half of the following season with an injury, he returned in 1990 to commit only 17 errors in his 154 games at shortstop. Larkin also continued to develop as a hitter, batting .301, and establishing new career highs with 67 runs batted in and 185 hits.
Development into Team Leader and National League's Best Shortstop:
However, it was as a team leader that Larkin perhaps showed the most growth. With the Reds struggling to close out the National League West title in September of 1990, Larkin called a team meeting, during which he criticized his teammates for coasting down the stretch. His teammates responded by quickly closing out the division, before eventually going on to defeat the Pirates in the NLCS and the heavily-favored Oakland A's in the World Series. Larkin batted .353 during his team's four-game sweep of Oakland in the Fall Classic.
Larkin clearly established himself as the National League's finest all-around shortstop over the next several years, posting batting averages of .302, .304, and .315 in 1991, 1992, and 1993, respectively, hitting as many as 20 home runs in the first of those seasons, and committing a total of just 42 errors over that stretch of time. After another solid 1994 campaign in which he earned the first of three consecutive Gold Gloves, Larkin was named National League MVP in 1995 for leading the Reds to the Central Division title. The shortstop's offensive numbers weren't particularly overwhelming – he batted .319, scored 98 runs, and stole a career-high 51 bases, but hit only 15 home runs and knocked in just 66 runs. But Larkin committed only 11 errors in the field, and he was Cincinnati's unquestioned leader. The Reds subsequently defeated the Dodgers in the NLDS, before losing to the eventual champion Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. Larkin batted .385 against the Dodgers, and then posted a mark of .389 against the Braves.
Larkin had his greatest statistical season in 1996, batting .298, stealing 36 bases, and establishing career highs with 33 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and 117 runs scored. By surpassing 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in the same year, Larkin became the first major league shortstop to do so. Ozzie Smith was so impressed with Larkin's performance that he approached his rival at the All-Star Game, presented him with an autographed bat, and said, "The torch is now yours."
After being named captain of the Reds prior to the start of the 1997 season, Larkin remained the National League's top shortstop until injuries began to significantly reduce his playing time in 2000. He continued to perform effectively, though, whenever his name was written on the lineup card, posting a batting average of .289 in 2004, his final year with the team. Larkin retired at the end of the season with 198 home runs, 960 runs batted in, 1,329 runs scored, 2,340 hits, a .295 batting average, and 379 stolen bases in 456 attempts, for an outstanding 83 percent success rate. He batted over .300 nine times, finished in double-digits in home runs nine times, surpassed 30 stolen bases five times, and scored more than 100 runs twice. In addition to his three Gold Gloves, Larkin finished in the top ten in the league MVP voting twice and was selected to 12 All-Star teams.
Ranked number six by baseball historian Bill James on his list of all-time great shortstops, Larkin appears to have an excellent chance of eventually being elected to Cooperstown, since he received an extremely representative 51.6% of the vote the first time his name appeared on the ballot in 2010.
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