June 28, 1991: Reds shortstop Barry Larkin strikes for three home runs in consecutive at bats, driving in six runs, as the Reds beat the Astros, 8-5. The win moves the second place Reds to within three games of the Western Division leading Dodgers. Unfortunately for the Reds, they soon suffer a rash of injuries, and began a slow fade that leads them to having the worst record in the National League over the remainder of the season. The Reds eventually finish fifth in the National League’s Western Division, 20 games behind the eventual champion Atlanta Braves, after winning the World Championship in 1990.
However, on this day, Barry Larkin makes baseball history. From the book, “Redleg Journal“, by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder:
“Larkin tied a major league record for most home runs in consecutive games with five. Larkin is one of 20 players in big league history to hit five homers in consecutive games. He is the only Cincinnati Reds hitter, and the only shortstop to accomplish the feat.”
Larkin hit all the homers off Astros pitcher Jim Deshaies in the first, third, and fifth innings. Deshaies also serves up a longball to Eric Davis in the fifth. Larkin’s and Davis’s fifth inning homers were back to back, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead. For their careers, Larkin and Davis have a field day with Jim Deshaies on the mound. In 49 plate appearances, Davis has a career batting average of .333 with six home runs against Deshaies (OPS of 1.238). Larkin faces Deshaies 39 different times with a batting average of .444 with five home runs (OPS of 1.404).
In 1991, Larkin breaks out with a 20 home run season, one of only two seasons in which he hit 20 or more homers, topped by the 33 he smashed in 1996. Larkin did hit double figures in home run totals in nine different seasons. Larkin ushered in the age of five-tool shortstops which added power to the shortstop package in addition to the traditional defensive requirements of the position. Larkin won nine Silver Slugger awards during from 1988-1999, an award given to the best hitter by position. He won three Gold Gloves for defensive excellence, and was named to 12 all-star teams. He won the NL MVP award in 1995, batting .319 with 15 homers, 66 rbi, and 51 stolen bases. His best season actually came in 1996, when he batted .298 with 33 homers and 89 rbi and stole 36 bases.
Some have questioned Larkin’s durability at shortstop over his 19 year career, but many don’t realize that he was in the top five in games played at shortstop in ten different seasons. Larkin is 13th on the all-time list in games played at shortstop with 2085 with only five Hall of Famers having played more games at shortstop than did Larkin (Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken, Luke Appling, and Rabbit Maranville).
Larkin is in the top five in almost all career major Reds offensive categories: third in games played, fourth in at bats, third in runs scored, second in hits, third in total bases, second in doubles, ninth in home runs, sixth in rbi, third in walks, third in stolen bases, fourth in singles, third in extra base hits, and second in times on base. Larkin is widely regarded as one of the greatest shortstops of all time, whose expected wait for Hall of Fame induction should be a rather short one.