Barry Larkin spent his entire 19-year career playing for his hometown Cincinnati Reds. Considered by many to be one of the best all-around players of his era, Larkin is now eligible for baseball’s highest individual honor.
While statistics are the primary tool for measuring a baseball player’s greatness, there are vital qualities and characteristics that a computer can’t necessarily figure out. Larkin excelled in many of those categories.
When judging a player at any level, I like to use the “Little League” test, which separates two types of players. One player stands in the field hoping the ball is not hit his way. The other player wants every ball to be hit to him, excited for the chance to make a game-changing play.
Larkin was the second type of player, not intimidated by pressure situations. He wanted to be at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the winning run in scoring position. Serving mostly as a leadoff hitter, Larkin was a key member of the 1990 World Series championship team.
Another thing that sticks out in my mind was his ability to work a pitcher. Larkin would foul-off pitch after pitch, perfectly slicing balls out of play. These were strikes, just not the pitch that was appropriate for the current situation. He was also not afraid to take a piitch, allowing a runner on first the opportunity to steal second base.
Larkin was very versatile offensively. He could hit anywhere in the lineup and adapt to all situations. The manager could always feel comfortable calling for a bunt or hit-and-run with Larkin at the plate.
In addition to these intangibles, Larkin did post some impressive statistics over his Major League career. He was a member of the National League All-Star team twelve times, and named the league’s most valuable player in 1995.
Despite winning just three Gold Gloves, Larkin was the best defensive shortstop of his era. His glove, range and arm were superb as he anchored the Reds infield for nearly two decades.
He revolutionized the shortstop position, making it acceptable for a team to expect offensive production over simply a defensive specialist. He won the Silver Slugger award nine times and posted a .295 lifetime batting average.
So, yes or no?
If Ozzie Smith is in the Hall of Fame, it would be a joke if Barry Larkin is not.