On Sunday, Barry Larkin will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Larkin was the star shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds from 1986 through 2004. It is said that he revolutionized the shortstop position, particularly in the National League, by combining steady hitting, power, speed and excellent defense. Among players who played shortstop their entire careers, Larkin compiled 2,340 hits, ranking him fourth; he hit 198 home runs, ranking him second behind Derek Jeter; and he stole 379 bases, ranking his sixth.
He was a twelve-time All-Star, and won nine Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. In 1995, he was voted as the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
In the field, Larkin made nifty plays like this:
And plays like this:
I watched him play. Many of you likely watched him play. He had tremendous range and a strong arm. He made the routine plays and the not-so-routine ones. And he made those plays, on the brutally hot and unforgiving artificial turf in use in Riverfront Stadium and other ballparks in the 1980s and 90s. He made some plays that defied imagination, until you remembered that Larkin entered the University of Michigan as a two-sport star: a shortstop and a defensive back. And he made those spectacular plays into his late 30s.
In fact, if it weren’t for MLB’s ridiculous policy of keeping it’s games and highlights off YouTube, we could simply watch Barry Larkin highlights all day long. Because that would be a great way to spend a few hours.
With that option off the table, let’s spend some time looking at just how great a player Larkin was for 19 seasons. Not just a great shortstop, but a great player. Unfortunately, our focus is limited to the offensive side of his game, because without more video (other than this gem) and with only rudimentary defensive statistics available for most of his career, there’s not much we can delve into about Larkin’s defense.
So what made Larkin a special player?
Larkin had longevity. Beginning in the 1986 season, when Larkin debuted, through 2004, when he played his last game, only twelve players had at least 9,000 plate appearances. Larkin was one of the twelve, even though he missed he missed significant portions of the 1989, 1997, 2000 and 2001 seasons to injuries. The others with more than 9,000 plate appearances in that 19-year span: Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Fred McGriff, Cal Ripken, Steve Finley, Jeff Bagwell, Mark Grace, Rickey Henderson and Sammy Sosa. Of the group, Larkin had the fourth-highest WAR (70.6), behind Bonds, Bagwell and Palmeiro.
Larkin was balanced. As a right-handed batter, he hit only slightly better against left-handed pitchers. He batted .293/.363/.425 against righties and .299/.391/.497 against southpaws. The same was true of his home/road splits. He batted .297/.383/.456 at home and .293/.358/.433 on the road. He did play some favorites, though. He loved hitting at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, where he had a career line of .347/.411/.547 in 63 games.
Larkin was consistent. Over his career, he batted .293/.364/.436 in the first half of the season and .297/.373/.456 in the second half.
Larkin didn’t wilt under pressure. With the bases empty, he batted .289/.355/.440. With runners in scoring position, he batted .298/.401/.435. In 100 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, Larkin batted .263/.390/.450.
Larkin was unique. In 1988, his breakout season, Larkin recorded a strike-out rate of only 3.7%. That is the eighth-lowest strike-out rate in a season by any player over the 19 years Larkin was in the majors.
Larkin was a winner. Larkin played in 17 postseason games with the Reds. He was the Reds’ shortstop on the 1990 World Series Championship team and on the 1995 National League Central Division winning team. In 78 postseason plate appearances, he batted .338/.397/.465. He stole eight bases and scored 24 runs.
Barry Larkin, great shortstop. Barry Larkin, great player. Barry Larkin, Hall of Famer.