Barry Larkin: A Cincinnati Legacy

I’ve been thinking about the induction of Barry Larkin since I first learned of the news back in January 2012 (earlier this year). I wrote about him in small snippets on Twitter, shared thoughts on my personal Facebook, and talked about him (sharing stories / memories) with any friends who cared to listen in “real life”. There is a reason why Barry Louis Larkin, the lone selection of the BBWAA in the 2012 induction class, matters to me: I saw his entire career, from beginning to end, playing for my favorite team.  His MLB career started around the same time I started paying attention.

Barry Larkin was one of two players from the beginning I “idolized” when I was younger; the other was Eric Davis. The first memory I have going to a ballpark was the 1987 season, and the first game we attended that season was July 4, 1987. I’ve looked up that box score in the past just out of sheer astonishment as the then-1st-place Reds were facing the defending champion New York Mets.  I remember watching that 1986 World Series (one of the more memorable in my lifetime, but things tend to get rose-colored from youth) as a 10-year-old and just being marveled how the Mets did what they did and the Red Sox somehow did what they did, too.  Seeing the Mets in-person was a big deal for me … and seeing my Reds beat them head-to-head just as big.

This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Barry Larkin, but here was the Reds lineup that night:

 

Batting ▴ AB R H RBI BB SO BA OPS WPA aLI WPA+ WPA- RE24 PO A
Kal Daniels LF 4 1 2 2 0 0 .314 1.017 0.119 0.69 0.146 -0.027 1.5 3 0 HR
Tracy Jones RF 4 0 0 0 0 0 .305 .872 -0.060 0.55 0.000 -0.060 -0.8 4 0
Eric Davis CF 4 2 2 1 0 0 .318 1.104 0.201 0.88 0.209 -0.008 1.5 2 0 HR
Dave Parker 1B 4 1 1 0 0 0 .270 .814 0.057 0.63 0.073 -0.016 0.1 8 0
   Terry Francona 1B 0 0 0 0 0 0 .203 .493 0.000 0.00 0.000 0.000 0.0 1 0
Buddy Bell 3B 3 1 1 0 1 0 .282 .778 0.016 0.76 0.041 -0.025 0.1 1 2
Bo Diaz C 3 0 0 1 0 0 .283 .744 -0.039 0.98 0.000 -0.039 -0.7 2 0 SF
Ron Oester 2B 3 1 1 1 0 1 .253 .684 0.130 1.00 0.146 -0.016 0.9 5 4 2B
Barry Larkin SS 3 1 1 0 0 0 .205 .643 0.136 0.96 0.161 -0.025 1.5 1 4
Bill Gullickson P 3 0 0 0 0 1 .231 .564 -0.072 0.65 0.000 -0.072 -1.3 0 2 GDP
Team Totals 31 7 8 5 1 2 .258 .757 0.488 0.78 0.776 -0.288 2.8 27 12
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/23/2012.

I remember those names almost like it was yesterday. The roots of some really good teams that just always came up a little short in the NL West year-after-year with 2nd-place finishes to inevitable winners like the Dodgers (twice), the Astros, and the Giants. Pete Rose could lead those teams through a strong first two-thirds only to fall apart on a West Coast swing somewhere around August. It was like clockwork. But, considering this is about Barry Larkin, not the 1980’s-era Reds, let me return to some focus …

I think a peer (agewise and baseball mentality-wise) sums up how I feel about Barry quite succinctly. Mo Egger, of ESPN 1530 radio, couldn’t have summarized it much better in his blog earlier in the weekend.

I met Barry Larkin for the very first time when I was 13, in August 1989, while he was recuperating from an injury sustained in his throwing elbow during an All-Star fielding exhibition (for those that actual remember those back in the day). I know I spoke to him, told him how he was one of my favorite players (he was), and more-or-less just stood in awe of how nice he was. My mom remarked how good-looking he was (still makes me laugh thinking back to standing in the Westin Chicago hotel lobby interacting with him).  I was already taller than Barry as a teenager, but, given that I was always tall, I was almost looking at Rob Dibble in the eye at the time.  I met over half the team on that trip, but it was the kindness of Barry Larkin that struck me on that Saturday afternoon … and became my favorite player all by himself (the Eric Davis story can wait for another day) for over the next decade to come.

In Barry’s own words, here is the transcript of his speech from Sunday’s ceremony in Cooperstown (courtesy Cincinnati Enquirer / cincinnati.com):

“‘I’m going to tell you guys something before I get started. I know you see us up here nice and polished and looking dapper, calm, cool and collected. I’m going to tell you what, this is unstinking believable. Unbelievable. And no, she did not get her voice from her daddy. I want to thank you, Commissioner Selig, Jane Forbes Clark, President Jeff Idelson, the staff up here in Cooperstown. You guys have done an incredible job. The atmosphere is unbelievable here. I want to thank the baseball writers for electing me with this honor. Congratulations to Ron Santo and his family. Vicki, you’re awesome. Great job. Congratulations to Tim McCarver and Bob Elliott.

My mom and dad, Robert and Shirley, that’s right, I tell her all the time she should run for mayor of Cincinnati. Everybody knows her. I want to thank you guys for your guidance, your advice and support. Dad, thank you for introducing me to the game, showing me the way to do it the right way. Mom, you were the guiding force in the family. If we were going to do something, we were going to do it right. You made sure of that.

Thank you to my wife Lisa. Thank you for your patience, understanding, the sacrifices you made. Dedication to our family. Thank you to Brielle — JB, you told me I was going to get through this, man. My daughter Brielle, Shane and Cymber, thank you for understanding dad had to be away in order to play this game. You guys kept it together and I’m so proud of you. My sister Robin, Mike, Byron, Stevie, you guys are awesome. Growing up, you challenged me every day one way or the other regardless of what it was, we were playing a game, whatever it was. That was so instrumental in help shaping the person I became, the competitor that I became. You guys are unreal. I want to thank all the other family members for coming up here. You can see there’s quite a few, so I can’t name you all, but thank you for coming. You guys have been so supportive through my days. Thank you. Tony Perez told me up here I’m losing time so I better get to it.

I grew up in Cincinnati in the era of the Big Red Machine. Yeah, you know about it. Managed by Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson, many other members that I cheered for sitting behind me, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, I grew up listening to Hall of Fame award winner Marty Brennaman in the
radio booth. That’s right. And Joe Nuxhall. You know he’s watching.

I, like many other young players at the time, grew up dreaming about the honor to play for the Reds and represent the city of Cincinnati. Much of my success as a person, as a baseball player is a product of many other influential people in my life working together and giving of their time and knowledge and of themselves. Many of those influential people are of Latin descent, and to them I say. Gracias. Gracias a las leyendas que me inspiraron a jugar a este juego como un niño pequeño…(Roberto Clemente, Luis Aparicio, Juan Marichal) ….. gracias a los grandes que yo admiraba cuando yo estaba creciendo…. (Rod Carew y Orlando Cepeda) y un agradecimiento muy especial a mi mentor Tony Perez y mi ídolo, David Concepción, gracias por darme la bienvenida, creyendo en mí, por enseñarme y me hace sentir como un miembro de su familia. Y a Roberto Alomar, durante mi carera yo esperia que algún día ser su compañero de equipo. Bueno esto no es exactamente como yo quería que pasar, pero finalmente somos una double play combinacion. Gracias a los jugadores latinos en la grande ligas y los menores que me ayudaron y los fanaticos que me apoyaron. Muchas Gracias a todos y respeto! And for all you people who don’t know what I’m saying, I’ll interpret it in a second. I just told Roberto during my career I wanted to play with this guy so bad because I saw on the other side of the field he was just that special of a player and and I just told him finally we are a double play combination.

Thank you to all the fans, all the Latin players, all the fans in the minor leagues and the big leagues, thank you very much.

So now back to English. I want to go back to the days of Silverton, Ken-Sil and Madisonville. Played on some great teams growing up in Cincinnati. I want to thank many of the coaches, my dad, Robert Larkin, Moses Willimas, Bruce Fields, Hank Gillespie.

Moeller High School. Any Moeller High School people in the house? I want to thank the staff for the leadership. Gerry Faust, Ted Bacigalupo, Mike Cameron, Paul Smith. My teammates and the coaches at the Midland summer league program in Cincinnati, Coach Papa Joe Hayden and his wife Lois, George Graff. They provided us an opportunity to travel and compete against the best talent in the country while still in high school. Thank you guys so much. So proud to have attended and graduated from the University of Michigan. I want to thank Bo Schembechler who’s watching down on us today who recruited me to play baseball, I’m sorry, recruited me to play football. Yeah, I made that mistake too. He redshirted me my freshman year and told me he was going to allow me just to play baseball. Occasionally I’d call him while I was playing in the big leagues and told him that was the best decision he ever made as a football coach. He didn’t like that too much.

I wanted to thank Bud Middaugh, Danny Hall, many of my college teammates, many of who are here today, Jeff Jacobsen Kenny Heyward, Chris Gust, Gusto, Dereck Kerr, Eric Sanders, Ken Kaminicki, my first college roommate currently my agent and good friend Casey Close. You guys are here in the house, I appreciate you coming. You guys are classy. I appreciate you guys coming to be a part of this.

I want to thank and acknowledge Eric Goldschmidt who’s my agent during my playing days. Thanks for helping me navigate the twists and turns of my career, Eric.

Thank you to Paul Siler, Team USA, USA baseball, Rod Dedeaux for giving an opportunity to represent the country in the 1984 Olympic games in LA. It was certainly a dream come true to play for my home town team. It was a surreal experience. And I think equally impressive was the type of people and the quality of people that I came in contact with as a result of living out that dream.

The Cincinnati Reds organization, the ownership, Marge Schott, Carl Lindner. I want to thank them for the opportunity. The current Reds ownership, the Castellini and Williams, you guys are unbelievable. You’re awesome. I want to thank you for allowing me and my family to still be a part of the organization. You know, they had a party for me last night and we had to do a little impromptu speech up there. Bob Castellini, he’s a pretty good speaker. He’s fun. I want to thank the countless GMs that I played for, Bill Bergish, Bob Quinn, Jim Bowden and the current GM Walt Jocketty. Many of the front office staff, the behind the scenes people, the personnel who supported me throughout; Dr. Tim Kremchek, medical staff, Gary Wayhoff, traveling secretary, you guys are incredible.

Gene Bennett, the longtime Red scout who believed me and drafted me out of high school also after my junior year in college. Gene, you’ve always been supportive of me and my family. I thank you for your friendship, your professionalism and your patience and your persistence.

I want to thank my first manager Jeff Lynn and Jack Cox, the City of Burlington, Vermont, the Vermont Reds. I saw some people walking around here. Vermont Reds. The Denver Zephyrs, the City of Boulder, Colorado while I was in the minor leagues. When I got to the big leagues, the quality of people was unbelievable. The first family that I met were the Stowe family, in my opinion year after year the most valuable members of the Reds organization for the success of the ball club as far as the players are concerned. Humility, professionalism and patience comes to mind when I think of Bernie, Mark and Rick and the job that they performed in taking care of all the players in the clubhouse, both home and visitor players. You guys have always been the best. I want to acknowledge you guys. You guys did an unreal job.

I have caught up to Cincinnati. I had an incredible opportunity to spend some time with some outstanding mentors that show me the way how play, how to be a professional on and off the field, to share with me some life lessons, polish some things that I would apply in my everyday life. I played with some monumental figures in the game of baseball and I want to acknowledge a few of those guys. You know it. Pete Rose. 4,256 of them. That’s right. You know, Pete and I had something in common obviously being from Cincinnati. I thank him for sharing and helping me through some very rough times as a young player. I remember the day I got called up to the big leagues. It was in Denver, Colorado. I had to get to Cincinnati flying through Dallas/Fort Worth, flying through Chicago, you know there’s weather in the middle of the summer, and it wasn’t happening. Eventually I got to Chicago at 7:24, 7:35 game. Pete Rose is on his way out of the manager’s office because he’s been waiting on me to get there all day to get there because I wasn’t starting shortstop that day. So I walk in the club house, Pete’s walking out of his office and he looks at me and says, “Larkin, your first day in the big leagues and you’re already late.” And I go, “Skip, I don’t have anything.” He’s like, “Sit down.” So he laughs, we share a few minutes, he asks me, he says, “You got any bats, any gloves, anything?” I’m like, “No, I have nothing.” He’s like, “Well, what size bat do you use?” I go, “Whatever size you use, Skip.” “How about your shoes, what size shoe you wear?” “Those Mizunos, they look like they’ll work.” He says, “All right, here you go.” So I take it. It gets no better than the first day of the big leagues, playing for the hometown team, Pete Rose my manager, I’ve got his bat, I’ve got his shoes. Dave Parker gave me a pair of gloves, Eric Davis gave me something else. By the way, I didn’t pay Eric for that, but certainly we will be talking about compensation afterwards. I appreciate it Eric.

Well, the game goes, I’m sitting on the bench, I get a chance to pinch hit. I had a ground ball to shortstop, man on third base, score a run, drive in a run. After the game, I’m thinking this is just such an incredible experience. I sit down and I’m talking to many of the members. Media was pretty thick that day in the club house and Pete Rose just kind of patiently sat behind them and as they all walked out, probably about a half an hour or so after the game, Pete walks over to me and says, “How was that?” I said, “That was awesome, man.” He talked to me about growing up in Cincinnati, he talks to me about the opportunity to represent the home town, the responsibilities of being a Red, how to conduct myself in a professional manner. He spends, like I said, about a half an hour with me and finally asks me, “It feel good in your hand, that bat? Those shoes, they feel good on your feet?” I was like, “They are awesome.” He’s like, “Good. Give them back.” I said, “What?” He said, “Your stuff will be here tomorrow, give me my stuff back.” I don’t know if you knew or not, if you have foresight or not, but that Pete Rose bat or Pete Rose shoes were not going to see the light of day because they were going home in my car that night. I guess that’s about being a veteran.

I want to just thank Pete for the opportunity. I wouldn’t be in the big leagues if he didn’t give me that opportunity. He I want to thank him for that. He beat me to the punch that day. His words of wisdom and his support and him talking to me all the time. Thank you, Pete Rose. I love you, man. I idolized Davey Concepcion as a young ball player. Yep. I tried to imitate his player style. I often dreamt about meeting him one day. While I was up at the University of Michigan, the Reds came to Detroit and they were playing the Tigers in the exhibition game. John Faulk, who was the equipment manager at the University of Michigan, drove me down to the stadium, the old Tiger stadium, to meet some of the ball players. As soon as I get to the stadium, Dave Parker, here with his lovely wife Kelly, the Cobra, Dave Parker, as soon as I walk into that clubhouse grabs me by the hand and walks me right over to my idol’s locker and he says Dave, you see this guy right here? This is Barry Larkin. He’s from Cincinnati. He’s
going to take your job. And I’m saying oh, my goodness. This is not how I expected this to go down. Davey looks at me, grabs my hand, looked at my calluses and says, “No. His hands are too hard, he can’t play shortstop.” Pops, you instilled something in me that day. It was about the confidence. I appreciate that.

I remember that interaction with Davey. I remember that interaction with Dave Parker. I remember thinking that’s awfully presumptuous of this guy. I didn’t know the relationship between him and Davey Concepcion, but I thought it was a little weird, felt a little uncomfortable, but he showed a lot of confidence in me. I’ll get to another story about Dave Parker. But Davey Concepcion, understanding that I was gunning for his job, understanding that I was from Cincinnati, he spent countless and countless of hours with me preparing me for the game. I idolized Dave Concepcion as a kid and when I got a chance to meet him, I thought the actual thing and what I expected was going to be totally different, but I can honestly say that interaction with him, that personal relationship with him was even better than it was when I was thinking about eventually meeting my idol. He worked with me on everything out there on the field. The bounce throw from the hole, prepare for the game daily, whether it was taking ground balls as shortstop or as I’m taking ground balls as shortstop, he would go to second base and first base so I could throw the ball across the diamond to get prepared for the game. Davey was there for me. Davey is a special, special individual. I appreciate you and I thank you, my idol, thank you, Davey Concepcion. So many special people from Cincinnati.

Buddy Bell, a native Cincinnatian, Buddy was my mentor while I was on the field and would give me advice, help me with positioning. He was really instrumental in shaping my perspective on how I was to handle success and failure in the big leagues. So one day early in my career, Buddy tells me I want you to come out early in Dodger stadium, take a few ground balls. I’m like okay, great. So we get out there, Jimmy Ladd’s hitting us some ground balls to shortstop, we take about two or three, Buddy tells Jimmy to go inside. It’s Buddy Bell and I in Dodger stadium. He walks over to me, says, “Hey, let’s talk.” He says, “You know, as ball players we have such a unique opportunity.” He said, “We are going to see a lot of beautiful things, get a lot of great opportunities and I want to you always take the time to step back from it, let everything slow down and really appreciate the opportunity to keep things in perspective.” He says, “Always
remember where you come from and take the time to smell the grass.”

So I’m sitting in Dodger stadium in the big leagues, 22 years old I’m like yeah, this is nice. This is beautiful. He’s like, “I always want you to take the time to smell the grass.” And I go yeah, smog free day here in LA, beautiful Dodger stadium. He says, “i want you to take the time to smell the grass.” “You want me to smell the grass?” “Smell the grass.” So I literally get down on all fours and smell the grass. As I’m down there, Buddy says, “Now turn over.” And I’m going hold on a second, man. Something’s wrong with this picture right here. And as I turn over, I look up in the sky, high blue skies, a few clouds, I see the rim of Dodger stadium and I just get almost in like a trance and he says to me, “Pretty big, isn’t it?” And I go, “Yeah, it is. It’s enormous. I can see the rim of the stadium, the wavy canopy out in the outfield.” And he says, “How big do you feel?” And I said, “I feel like an ant. I feel so small.” He says, “That’s right. That’s how small we all are relative to the grand scheme of baseball. Don’t ever, ever lose that perspective.” That was my introduction to the game of baseball.

Many people ask me why I am the way I am today. Many people ask me don’t I wish that I played in a different era, the era of now when baseball players are making so much money. I go no, man, no. I’m glad I came in the time that I did, I’m glad I had the opportunity at the time that I did because I was able to interact with these type of quality people. Anthony Perez, Papito is what I love to call him, Tony, his beautiful wife Pituka. Victor, he didn’t want me to announce him, but Vic, sorry. Eduardo, you guys were awesome, these guys were like a second family to me when I was in the big leagues. I used to love spending time with Tony because not only did I idolize him, but Tony’s a talker. You might have to interpret what he says sometimes, but Tony is a talker. And Tony always used to love to talk hitting so I would always stick around Tony because he’d talk about hitting, he’d talk about situational hitting.

I remember Tony trying to convince me to relax with runners in scoring position, he’d try to convince me that it was the pitcher that was in trouble when there was a runner on third base with less than two out, not the hitter. And I had trouble understanding that concept, but Tony would talk to me endless, endless hours, countless hours and if you had any time or if you get a chance to ever spend a little time with Tony Perez, one
thing you’ll notice that Tony does not sugar coat things, he didn’t mince words. Tony gives it to you straight. Even through that heavy accent, you understand Tony’s not beating around the bush.

So one day we were talking about situational hitting and sown Tony was pointing out some flaws in my swing and he told me that he thought I needed to make a few adjustments and I recall telling him, “Tony, I’m a little uncomfortable with some of those adjustments.” And he suggested I needed to make it, in Tony Perez style, he said to me, he said, “You want to be comfortable?” He said, “Go home and sit on the couch. You ain’t getting paid to be comfortable, you’re getting paid to hit, so get over it.” Tony, thank you for your tough love, my man.

I don’t know if there was a more complete player in the 1980s to ’90s than Eric Davis. Eric “the Red” Davis. Not only is he a good hype man, a good pitch man, early in my career, Eric invited me out to LA after my first season with the Reds. He didn’t know me very well, but he invited me out to LA, he opened his home to me out in LA. Being from Cincinnati at 22 years old, I’m thinking yeah I’m going to go to LA, going to have fun, off season, really enjoy myself. Well, the next morning we are out there 7:00 in the morning running up and down the hills in Woodland Hills, California. I understood then that it’s a little bit different ball game now.

As a young player, Eric set the tone for me, the standard for me. He demonstrated the work ethic and the effort, the commitment that was required of me to be successful at the big league level. He showed me how to respect others, how to appreciate others, how to treat teammates, and I appreciate you, Boogie, and I appreciate everything you did for me as well as the family. Thank you, my man.

I mentioned the Cobra earlier, Dave Parker, and the confidence he had in me. In every player’s career, there’s a defining moment. There’s certain experiences that we refer to and we reflect back on that experience and say you know what, I believe that, that really turned things around for me in my career. Pops and Boogie created one of those defining moments for me. I talked about them challenging me and players challenging me during my career. Literally, Pops and Boogie, they invited me out to the batting cages late one night after a ball game was over and I thought that was unusual because normally I saw guys getting their work in before the game, but I thought I’m struggling so I guess this is as good as any time to go out and work on something in the cages. Now, Cincinnati at this time, the batting cages were underneath the stands, it was cold, concrete and not very well lit. There were no lights on hardly at all out there and I was told to come out there and take a little extra batting practice, at least that’s what I thought was going to happen. So I walk out to the cages and all I see is this six foot six monster of a man and Dave Parker and Boogie sitting out there. You see, they noticed that I wasn’t playing with the urgency and the confidence that they knew I had within me, and I can’t repeat publicly how they encouraged me that evening. Let’s just say after that encounter, that in-your-face ultimatum, that defining moment, that I committed to playing with that urgency and the passion that led me down this path to the Hall of Fame. Pops, Boogie, once again, thank you.

I had some great years in Cincinnati. I got a chance to play on some great teams with some pretty special people. The Big Red Machine, ’75 and ’76, they certainly set the standard. It was all about winning championships. And in 1990, we did just that, we won that championship. Wire to wire, knocked off a team that many had crown champion before we even started, the Oakland A’s. They had a pretty good center fielder sitting
behind me, Yank. Pretty good. But we had some pretty good players too. How about Jose Rijo, Danny Jackson, Tom Browning who’s here, I saw him, the Nasty Boys, Eric the Red, Billy Hatcher, Mariano Duncan, Spuds MacKenzie. In his first year of managing the Reds, Lou Piniella. Yeah. Sweet Lou. On his first day of spring training, Lou put the team on notice, he told us he didn’t like loosing, said he didn’t accept loosing and told us we were not going to loose. Well, 162 games later during the regular season, a hard fought National League championship series against the Pittsburgh
Pirates and the sweep of the Oakland A’s, the mission was complete. We played hard, we played fair and we represented the great city of Cincinnati with great pride and respect.

But I’m going to tell you something, the championship, it wasn’t just ours as players, it was yours too, the fans, the Reds fans. Yeah. I love you Cub fans too. I’m not leaving you guys out. You guys were instrumental as well. You all were such a big part of motivating us and supporting us. I was so happy to be able to share and celebrate that championship with the fans from my home town and fans from across the world. The passion, the pride that year was infectious and I want to thank you, thank you for your passion, thank you for your energy, thank you for your pride and thank you for caring. We love you too, my man.

As a player, I would often look in the mirror and question myself am I doing enough, is there more, could I do something a little bit different, something better, could I try harder? Is this the right thing to do? I asked myself that question because I took a lot of pride in representing not only myself but my family, the Reds organization, the City of Cincinnati. I admit and I realize that I wasn’t always the easiest person to deal with. I acknowledge that at times I acted out, made plenty of mistakes and didn’t always handle situations as best I could. I humbly appreciate your acceptance of me and my shortcomings and your continued support for me and my family. And for those questions I used to ask? Well, no longer do I have to ask those questions any more. The answer is forever written on my plaque in Cooperstown.

You know, every player wants to be successful, every player wants to win, every player wants to feel appreciated and looks for validation. Well, my inclusion in the Hall of Fame is the ultimate validation and I want to thank you all for helping me along the way. Thank you very much.”

Follow me on Twitter @JDRentz to continue the conversation.

Tags: Barry Larkin Hall Of Fame

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