If you grew up in Cincinnati, you were a Barry Larkin fan. You were among the masses at Cincinnati Reds games chanting, "Barry, Barry, Barry!," when he was at bat or following a trademark defensive gem.
You can compile lists, flip baseball cards and count home runs, but at the end of the day, Larkin is the best shortstop to ever put on a baseball uniform.
Larkin, who played 19 years for the Reds, was always a fan favorite and welcome fixture in the Queen City.
You would always see Barry. He was on TV. He attended Redsfest, an annual event in Cincinnati where fans meet players for pictures and autographs, every year.
Larkin was the epitome of a captain. The fourth pick overall in 1985 excelled not only in baseball but basketball and football as well, the latter of which earned him a football scholarship to play for the University of Michigan under Bo Schembechler. He left the program to pursue baseball after one year, much to the chagrin of Schembechler.
Maybe what he excelled in most was leadership by example. You will likely see the emotion that propelled No. 11 on Sunday, where he will admittedly get "choked up" at the Cooperstown Podium. Although he batted .295 with 198 home runs and 960 RBI and appeared in 12 All-Star games, won three Gold Gloves and the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1995, Larkin will forever be known as a Red in this era of free agency and dollar-chasing.
Larkin showed his loyalty multiple times throughout his career. The shortstop had ample opportunities to ditch the red threads and hit the market but never did. He could have even switched to Dodger blue according to this Associated Press article.
His highest salary was a mere $9 million from 2001 to 2003. Larkin earned just $5.9 million during his MVP season, and followed that with 33 home runs and 36 stolen bases in 1996. Larkin was so integral to team chemistry that teammate Ken Griffey Jr. offered to defer some of his own salary to keep the captain around in 2000, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
When is the last time you have heard that happen in the days of the diva athlete?
As former Reds General Manager Jim Bowden writes, "Barry goes into the Hall of Fame this weekend as his era’s best NL shortstop, but he’s also going in because of his high character, integrity, family values and all of the championship-caliber insight he gave the organization"
Yes, I am a biased Reds fan, but when you consider all that I have said, you will be hard-pressed to find an argument.
According to David Schoenfield of ESPN.com, the consensus on best shortstops ranks Larkin seventh, behind Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Arky Vaughan, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith and Ernie Banks.
Let's first take a look at which players in this grouping were career shortstops. That eliminates Yount and Banks from the category. We will keep Ripken in the group because he played in over 2,000 games at shortstop, along with Ozzie Smith.
According to Schoenfield's rankings, this ranks Larkin fifth. Larkin was nearly identical in average to Vaughan, but hit for more power and had a career fielding percentage of .975, compared to Vaughan's .953. This moves Larkin up to fourth all-time, and third best-ever National League shortstop.
Although each of the four won world series titles, Smith, arguably the best defensive infielder of all time, never won an MVP. Wagner was playing before the MVP was awarded. If you take this into account, the trio of best shortstops ever now includes Wagner, Ripken, and Larkin.
By all accounts, Wagner is arguably one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He hit for a higher average than Larkin, and although Wagner hit 97 fewer home runs than Larkin, Wagner accounted for 1475 RBI compared to Larkin's 960. Wagner was the better offensive player.
Defensively, Larkin was the better player. If you take away the hardware that Larkin has and just look at the solid stats (per baseballreference.com) you will see that Larkin's .975 fielding percentage is better than Wagner's .947. Larkin had an astounding 235 career errors compared to Wagner's 828 career errors.
But I just cannot keep Wagner on this list of comparison because of the era he played in. Wagner played 30 years before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Larkin played on a level playing field among the best athletes in the world. Wagner did not.
For me, it is a toss up between the two best shortstops of all time at this point. How can you go against baseball's Iron Man?
Ripken played the majority of his career at shortstop. But it must be noted that, according to baseballreference.com, Ripken played third base for eight seasons and 635 games. Larkin played second base in only 3 of his 2,088 career games.
Ripken, a member of the 3,000 hit club, hit for a lower batting average than Larkin but topped No. 11 in career home runs and RBI. Larkin's 379 career stolen bases dwarfed Ripken's 36.
By definition, Larkin was a career shortstop. By my breakdown he is undoubtedly the best overall shortstop to play in the National League. By choice, Larkin is the best shortstop I have ever seen and had the best all-around full-time career at his position in baseball history.
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