Mixed emotions face Larkin as HOF induction nears
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — When Barry Larkin takes the podium to speak at his Baseball Hall of Fame induction, his emotions likely will be off the charts.
Not only will his mother and father be front and center, his teenage daughter, Cymber, will sing the national anthem Sunday.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s definitely something special, but I’ll be nervous as heck for her,” the former Cincinnati Reds shortstop said Tuesday on a conference call. “I’ve heard just about everybody in the world is stopping by.”
Larkin, who retired after the 2004 season with a .295 career average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs scored and 379 stolen bases, was elected this year on his third try, receiving 495 votes (86.4 percent). He’ll be inducted along with the late Ron Santo, a star third baseman for 15 years with the Chicago Cubs and a longtime broadcaster for the team after he retired in 1974. Santo died in 2010 at age 70.
Larkin, whose father, Robert, coached him in several sports, was an honor student and a two-sport standout in his senior year at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School. Although he wanted to go to college, Larkin said he was torn because his hometown Reds drafted him in the second round of the 1982 draft, and they offered more than his family ever dreamed of.
“They were throwing money at me that we had not seen,” he said. “That was really the tough part for me. I remember asking my mom and dad, ‘You guys need this money? Do you want this money?’ They were like, ‘No!’ Once they said no, it was very easy for me to go to college.”
So, Larkin went to Michigan on a football scholarship to play for coach Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines. But Larkin’s dream of becoming a standout defensive back was doused when Schembechler redshirted him as a freshman, and he quickly gravitated toward baseball.
Much to the chagrin of an incredulous Schembechler, Larkin walked away from football for good when his baseball skills improved during that year away from the gridiron, and he became a two-time All-American who appeared in two College World Series for the Wolverines.
Still, despite his accomplishments, Larkin said his experience in Los Angeles on the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team spurred him to become great. He played in only three of the team’s five games and batted a woeful .143.
“That really upset me, made me tell myself, ‘All right, I’m not playing around anymore. I’m going to be much better. I’m going to make them have to play me,”’ Larkin said. “I think that’s when it really clicked for me. After that, I felt like I got a lot better, a lot more focused.”
Drafted again by the Reds in 1985, this time the fourth pick overall, Larkin finished seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1986 despite playing just 41 games.
In his speech on Sunday, Larkin likely will pay tribute to the man he replaced at shortstop — Dave Concepcion — and other former teammates like Buddy Bell who helped him adjust to major league life as a rookie.
“When I got to the big leagues, I still needed some fine-tuning,” said Larkin, who, as a child and Cincinnati fan, practiced sliding headfirst like Pete Rose, wielded his bat like Tony Perez, and practiced one-hop throws to first base on concrete, imagining he was Concepcion.
“My learning curve was pretty steep. Davey knew I was gunning for his job. I could not believe how much he welcomed me, accepted me and helped me.”
Though Larkin played his entire 19-year career with the Reds, he was nearly traded toward the end. But he nixed a deal in July 2000 that would have sent him to the Mets because he wanted a three-year contract and New York refused. Of course, that wasn’t the first time Larkin’s name surfaced in a prospective trade. The previous year, he was caught off-guard while on a road trip to Los Angeles.
“The clubhouse kid comes over to me and gives me a jersey with Larkin on the back, and it was a Dodger jersey,” he said. “I asked him, ‘What is that? Do you have somebody named Larkin in your franchise?’ He said, ‘No. It’s for you. We were that close to a deal and they had told us to make up the jersey because the press conference was going to take place in a couple of days and they wanted to make sure that we were prepared for it.”’
The deal, of course, didn’t pan out. Much to the benefit of the Reds.
“I had no idea,” Larkin said, “I had no clue.”