There is no surprise as to who #11 will be on our countdown of the greatest Reds in history to wear that number. Barry Larkin is a recent Hall of Fame inductee, not only in Cincinnati, but Cooperstown, as well.
The fourth overall pick of the 1985 draft, proved to be more than worthy of his early selection. Larkin was a standout football player at the University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler before deciding that baseball was the route that gave him the best opportunity. His decision was wise, as baseball offers not only the most stability in long-term contracts, careers are longer, and the money is heftier; not to mention not nearly the same amount of stress put on the body as other sports provide. Thankfully, Larkin made the wise choice to become the Reds everyday shortstop.
After finishing seventh in Rookie of the Year voting in 1986, Larkin never looked back. It was his job to have for the remaining 18 years of his career.
From 1988-2000, Larkin was elected to the All-Star team 11 times. The two years he was not elected though, he still received the National League’s Silver Slugger award at the shortstop position for outstanding offensive effort.
Those who look back on Larkin’s career may remember his 1996 season above the rest. He became the first primary shortstop to attain membership in the elusive 30-30 club of hitting 30 homeruns and stealing 30 bases in a single season. Not only did Larkin set the barometer high for shortstops in Reds uniforms after him, he may have single-handedly transformed the position. Once a spot on the field designed for slick fielders (which he certainly was), Larkin showed that shortstops should not be afraid to flex their muscles once in a while.
As transcending as his ’96 campaign was, Larkin won his only National League MVP award the year before. Curiously not leading the league in any category, Larkin had a slash line of .319/.394/.492 which when combined with his second-best in the league 51 steals, made for a dynamic offensive season. It certainly was not on these numbers alone that locked up his first and only MVP award, but his unbelievable defensive prowess. Larkin won three straight Gold Glove Awards from 1994-1996, proving that he was one of the most complete players in the game.
After proving his worth to the franchise over more than a dozen seasons, the Reds were to make a blockbuster trade just before the 2000 Trade Deadline. The deal would have sent Larkin to one of his favorite places, (Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets) but due to his longevity, Larkin turned the deal down. Many question the character of a player if he turns down a trade after the organization has felt it best that they move on, but a breed like Larkin is so rare in sports these days. Handfuls of athletes feel that whatever organization offers them the most money, or guaranteed years, or least sales tax, is the best place for them. One of the games finest gentlemen chose to stay close to home and to be faithful to the franchise that invested so much in him, 15 years ago.
His final season proved to be his last hoorah as Larkin was elected to the 2004 All-Star Game. He may not have been at the top of his game still, but the future Hall of Famer knew it was time for him to call it quits.
Life after the Major Leagues certainly did not seem to overwhelm Larkin. He was prominently featured at his son Shane’s basketball games while he played at Miami (FL). He joined Davey Johnson on the bench of Team USA for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, followed by being the head man in charge himself for Team Brazil, who surprisingly qualified for the 2013 version of the tournament. As well as being a member of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight crew, Larkin considered interviewing for the Detroit Tigers most recent managerial position before respectfully bowing out.
As it usually is the case when a retired player wins, there is no true second candidate that was worthy of unseating Larkin. Both Roy McMillan and Lonny Frey had extended careers in Cincinnati, but of course, nothing of the magnitude like Larkin.
Bill James had Larkin ranked as his sixth greatest shortstop in baseball history in his most recent rankings. Additionally, for players who wore the number 11 for more than 10 seasons, Larkin has the all-time highest WAR at 70.18, edging out greats such as Edgar Martinez, Carl Hubbell and Luis Aparicio.
The Cincinnati Reds could play baseball for another 145 years and they still may never find a shortstop as talented and dynamic as Barry Larkin. No other team can stake a claim to the man nicknamed “Lark” who so gracefully represented the organization with integrity both on and off the field.