Editor’s note: This piece originally ran in January, but we’re re-running because Barry Larkin deserves it.
A few days ago, upon hearing of Larkin’s election to the Hall of Fame, I asked the other guys here to share a cherished Larkin memory or two. I thought it would be nice to share them with the rest of the Nation. I’ll start with mine:
This is pretty random, but I remember right after Larkin had retired, he mentioned that Bowden had tried to get him to play for the Nationals. You remember, no doubt, that Larkin wanted to play for the Reds in 2005. He talked about how he even put the uniform on and walked out onto the field, but then he couldn’t do it. I love that. I love that, at that point in his career, his connection to Cincinnati and the uniform meant more than playing. He’d come back, but only for Cincinnati.
From Steve Mancuso:
My best in-person Barry Larkin memory was from a game that he didn’t play in until the bottom of the ninth inning. Great American Ballpark had been open for about a month on May 6, 2003. I was at my first game at the brand new park with my Dad, sitting in the front row of the upper deck. I was still living in the Washington DC area at the time, so this was a very special occasion for a number of reasons.The Reds had blown a late lead and were down by a run in the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Castro singled to bring up the pitcher’s lineup spot. Manager Bob Boone (yep) sent the Reds’ captain, Barry Larkin in to pinch hit — Larkin’s first AB since coming off the DL that afternoon.Facing Kiko Calero, Larkin lined a 1-0 pitch into the upper deck in left field for a two-run, walk-off homer!
Barry Larkin was the best baserunner I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even close. He was smart, and he was fast. I’m sure he made a mistake one the bases at some point, but I can’t remember it. He took extra bases on sleeping or mis-positioned outfielders, but he never ran into outs. As we know, his 83% success rate is fifth-best all-time (min. 200 SB). Larkin really did everything well, but baserunning is probably the area where he was the most ahead of his peers.
As good as Barry Larkin was in the regular season, he continued to perform at a high level against better pitching in the playoffs. He hit out of the leadoff spot in the 1990 postseason, and it seemed like he was always on base in the first inning. In 10 games that postseason, Barry reached base 6 times in the first inning and scored 5 first inning runs. The only time they stopped him from scoring after reaching, he was erased from the basepaths on a groundball doubleplay. He was the only Reds batter to show up during the NLCS series against the eventual World Series Champion Braves, batting .387 with a 1.032 OPS.
Barry has always been one of my favorite players and I’ll always view him as being a ground breaker for the Reds – a team that was in need of a paradigm shift when he arrived – because in June of 1985, the Reds used their 1st round pick on a college position player for the first time ever.
The prior year pitcher Pat Pacillo had been the first college player ever chosen by the Reds in the 1st round. The fact that this occurred in the 20th year of the drafts existence was not lost on Bill James who addressed the Reds drafting strategy in his 1984 Baseball Abstract.
The position player?
Barry Larkin, shortstop, University of Michigan.
Now, let’s hear from our esteemed leader, Mr. Dotson:
My most enduring memory of Barry Larkin came in Game 2 of the 1990 World Series. The world hadn’t really been fully introduced to Larkin yet, but Reds fans were already beginning to realize what a special kid we had playing shortstop. In Game 2, the A’s had taken the lead in the top of the first when Larkin stepped to the plate. Two pitches later, Bob Welch (that year’s Cy Young winner) had Larkin in an 0-2 hole.
I’ll never forget that next pitch; it was a fastball and it’s no exaggeration to say that the ball was eye-level. Inexplicably, Larkin took a mammoth swing and hit a ground-rule double. By the end of the inning, the Reds had taken the lead and my confidence that the Reds could actually pull off a victory was restored.
I guess the reason why I remember that play most was that it was so unlike the Larkin I came to enjoy throughout his career. Larkin was a guy who did the little things correctly; he was a great fielder, an excellent base-runner, he took a walk. On October 17, 1990, he hacked at a pitch, and I’ll never forget it.
Let’s close it out with the inimitable Mr. Lack, who sums it up rather poetically, I think:
I don’t have A memory of Barry Larkin. It’s a montage in my mind. It’s him going to his right, back-handing a ball in the hole, planting that right foot, and gunning it to first. It’s him taking a hit away by going behind 2nd base and getting the runner at first. It’s him taking that outside pitch and driving it to RF. It’s him stealing that base when you
needed it late in a game.
It’s him making the decision to stay a Cincinnati Red.
Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.