- Rusty Kennedy/AP
By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 9, 2012
Barry Larkin is headed to Cooperstown.
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The former Michigan baseball player and longtime Cincinnati Reds shortstop was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday after being named on 86 percent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America's ballots. The threshold for a call to the hall is 75 percent.
“Barry is a classy guy,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said in statement released Monday. “He's a very gifted athlete and for him to have such a long and successful career, you have to be special.
“The grind of Major League Baseball is incredible and he really made it look easy. He not only was a great fielder, was smooth and athletic, he also was an outstanding hitter. I think even more than that, he was a leader. He led the Reds throughout his career and I think that's what shortstops do.”
Larkin, a Cincinnati native, spent three years in Ann Arbor with then-Michigan coach Bud Middaugh before being drafted by the Reds and returning home. He spent a year and a half in the minors before becoming Cincinnati’s starting shortstop from 1986 to 2004.
The Reds thought so highly of Larkin that they drafted him in the second round in 1982. He turned down their offer and a $50,000 signing bonus to attend Michigan.
But the third-ballot Hall of Famer and .295 career hitter didn’t even come to Michigan for baseball. Larkin didn't originally catch Middaugh's eye, but that of legendary football coach Bo Schembechler.
Schembechler brought Larkin to Ann Arbor on a football scholarship to play defensive back. During his freshman year, though, Larkin switched to baseball for good — “for the first time in my life,” Larkin said.
He was a two-time All-American and led the Wolverines to two College World Series appearances in 1983 and 1984 — the last time Michigan reached the finale. Larkin was also named the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1984 and 1985.
After three years at Michigan, Larkin was again drafted by his hometown Reds — this time as the fourth overall pick, the highest-ever Wolverine draftee — and this time he answered the call. He spent 19 seasons in Cincinnati, collecting 2,340 hits, 198 home runs and 960 RBI in his tenure with the ballclub.
Larkin was a 12-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger winner, three-time Gold Glove winner and won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1995. His crowning achievement, he contends, was winning the 1990 World Series with the Reds.
“Barry was the face of the Cincinnati Reds organization for many years and was a great role model for so many young athletes both on and off the diamond,” Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon said in a statement. “He is one of the great players in our program's history and has been a great ambassador for our baseball program.”
In a promise to his grandmother, Larkin later returned to finish his final year of school at Michigan and earn his degree.
“I’m a graduate of the University of Michigan because I told my grandmother that I would do that and my mother made sure that I did it,” Larkin said in a teleconference on Monday.
Larkin was bypassed in his first two years of Hall of Fame eligibility, being named on 51.6 percent of BBWAA ballots in 2010 and 62.1 percent in 2011. He joins former Michigan players Charlie Gehringer, Branch Rickey and George Sisler in the Hall of Fame.
Larkin was already inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, joining Michigan alums Jim Abbott (2007), Rickey (2009) and Sisler (2010). Larkin’s No. 16 Michigan jersey was retired on May 1, 2010.
When trying to describe his credentials that gained him admission into the Hall of Fame, the ever-humble Larkin said he never expected to receive the necessary number of votes since he didn’t know if there was room for an “amoeba man” or a “complementary player” in the Hall of Fame.
“I just thought the Hall of Fame players had that one defining (skill) — not that they didn’t do other things well,” Larkin said. “Like, if you’re facing this guy, you’d better do X. Or you’d better not allow him to do X. Or we’re going to defend him like this.”
Barry Bonds hits. Rickey Henderson runs. Barry Larkin?
“I don’t know if you can say that about me, that’s why I call myself a complementary player. ... I was more of a hybrid player — this week I’m this because the team needs me to do this.”
In the end, the writers voted Larkin in rather easily in his third year of eligibility.
But that doesn’t mean it was a relaxing day.
Larkin was told he’d be called at 1:30 this afternoon if he won. ESPN crews were at his house filming the reaction. He didn’t get a call.
After pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the living room, Larkin turned off the TV to focus on something else.
“I’d given up hope that it was going to happen this year,” he said.
At 2:53, just seven minutes before the official announcement from the Hall of Fame, the phone rang. He looked at the area code: 212.
It was Jack O’Connell from the BBWAA. Larkin was in the Hall of Fame.