Several Reds players appeared on the most recent ESPN’s Hall of 100, the network’s list of the one hundred greatest players of all time. Here’s my general post on their rankings. Today I’ll begin looking at the specific players by examining the Reds career of Barry Larkin (#75). Number reflects his ranking on the ESPN Hall of 100 list.

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Growing up in Cincinnati, Barry Larkin was a multi-sport star at Moeller High School. Larkin was such a good football player, Bo Schembechler recruited him to play at the University of Michigan. Luckily for the Reds, Larkin gave up football to concentrate on baseball after Schembechler redshirted Larkin his freshman year. While at Michigan, Larkin played with future Reds Chris Sabo and Hal Morris. Larkin led the Wolverines to the College World Series in 1983 and 1984 before being drafted in the first round by the Reds in 1985.

Larkin had to compete to become the Reds starting shortstop. The Reds were looking for a replacement for the legendary Dave Concepcion, who was still on the roster when Larkin made his major league debut in 1986. Kurt Stillwell, the Reds first round pick in 1983, also played shortstop and had his supporters within the organization. Larkin had only played 175 games in the minors before he played his first full season with the Reds in 1987.

After giving over 400 plate appearances to both Stillwell and Larkin in 1987, the Reds traded Stillwell to the Royals and officially crowned Larkin as the shortstop of the future. The Reds reaped the benefits of that decision for the next 18 seasons.

The Reds most recent addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame (2012) played from 1986-2004, all with the Reds. Larkin hit .295/.371/.444 in his career with 198 homeruns and 960 RBIs while winning nine silver slugger awards. Larkin also stole 379 bases and went to twelve All Star games.

He had tremendous range at shortstop and rated well in both traditional and advanced defensive statistics. Larkin won three consecutive gold gloves from 1994-1996 and did things like this:

While the media persistently raved about National League rival Ozzie Smith’s defense, Larkin’s well rounded game was arguably better than Smith’s. Amazingly, both players ended their careers with exactly 67.6 WAR (Fangraphs).

Larkin was an excellent player almost instantly. Fresh off winning the shortstop battle, Larkin blossomed in 1988. According to Fangraphs, Larkin’s 6.3 WAR was the best among all shortstops in 1988. He hit .296/.347/.429 with 12 homeruns and stole 40 bases. His 122 wRC+ was third among shortstops.

He also excelled defensively. We have a metric (courtesy of Fangraphs) called Def that adjusts for position and tries to capture total defensive value. On the Def score scale, 0 is average, 4 is above average, and 12 is great. In 1988, Larkin had a Def score of 18.9, fourth among all shortstops. Three years after being drafted, Larkin was already a legitimate star.

Larkin was an integral part of the Reds 1990 World Series championship. He hit .301/.358/.396 with 30 stolen bases. Larkin’s bat and excellent defense (18.3 Def score) helped him accumulate 5.4 WAR. In the postseason, Larkin would hit .300/.378/.425, striking out only once in 45 postseason plate appearances.

Larkin won the MVP award in 1995 when he hit .319/.394/.492 with 51 stolen bases. That 1995 season is still the last season in which the Reds won a playoff series as Larkin collected twelve hits in just 31 at bats.

Larkin’s 1996 was even better. That year, Larkin became the first shortstop to hit at least 30 homeruns (33) and steal at least 30 bases (36) in the same season. Larkin’s 30th homerun came against those nasty Redbirds.

Larkin’s had a higher Isolated Power (ISO) score (.269) during his 1996 season than Jay Bruce has ever had in one season his career.

Prior to the 1997 season, Larkin was named the fourth captain in Cincinnati Reds history, a distinction last bestowed upon Larkin’s predecessor, Concepcion. As captain, Larkin was recognized as someone he had already been for years: the face of the franchise.

Larkin’s career is characterized by his stellar all-around game and consistency. Between 1988 and 1999, Larkin had at least 3.3 WAR in every season and had over 5 WAR in eight of those seasons.

Davey Johnson, Larkin’s manager for several seasons, once said that Larkin was the team’s best leadoff hitter, second-hole hitter, and three-hole hitter. Among Reds shortstops with at least 1000 plate appearances for the team, Larkin is the leader in most offensive categories including the following:

  1. Batting Average (.295)
  2. On Base Percentage (.371)
  3. Homeruns (198)
  4. wRC+ (118)
  5. Stolen Bases (379)
  6. Doubles (441)
  7. Triples (76)
  8. RBIs (960)

Maybe no single stat sums up Barry Larkin’s impact like the following: When Larkin was in the lineup during his career, the Reds had a .523 winning percentage. When he was out of the lineup, the Reds had a .455 winning percentage.

Even as a 40 year old in 2004, Larkin hit .289 with a .352 OBP. He retired after that season not only as the greatest shortstop in Reds history, but as one of the greatest shortstops in the history of the game.

15 Responses

  1. THEGAFFER

    I know its odd to say, but Larkin may be the most underrated player I have seen in the last 35+ years. For his first 10 years, there was no other player that was as important to his team. I think we forget how the small market reds were in the penneant race most every-year he was healthy (and not when he was not). Luckily, enough people knew how good he was to get into the Hall.

    Having watched most of his games, I remember he frequently was asked to move runners over to third by hitting behind them (giving up his out). He simply could do whatever you asked of him.

    • THEGAFFER

      I see Junior is next . . .hmmm. Not sure what I will say yet.

  2. Carl Sayre

    I always felt the last 3 or 4 GG Ozzie “won” should have been Larkins.

  3. sultanofswaff

    Quite easily the best I ever saw at hitting behind the runner. He’d bat second on my all-time greatest Reds team.

    • Thegaffer

      Definitely, and does not hurt to have that .380 OBP and being a super baserunner (over 80 percent SB rate).

      Morgan is my 3 hole hitter BTW. Rose probably has to be at leadoff. Can you imaging if you started with those 3, the pitch count would be over 20 with 5 throws over to first before you even got to the cleanup hitter.

      • Steve Mancuso

        You mean Rose ahead of Willy Taveras? Are you just trolling? 🙂

        Consider this:

        Morgan (1975-76): .329/.455/.542, average 22 HR
        Votto (2010, 2012): .330/.449/.583, average 25 HR
        Votto (2010, 2012*): .339/.450/.619, average 30 HR

        First Votto line is entire 2012, injury and all. Second Votto line extrapolates first half of Votto’s 2012 all season.

        Only 22 home runs for Morgan, but 120+ walks each year. Didn’t Morgan know he wasn’t being paid to walk?

      • Carl Sayre

        I like the point you are making Steve but Morgan walking was a double about 25 percent of the time.

      • Thegaffer

        You are preaching to the choir Steve on Joey. He is already the best 1B in Reds history for me. He is better than the Reds version of Junior For sure, but we have a few years to go to get more numbers. Joey surprisingly stole his share of bases before his knee went out, but to say that Morgans walks were more valuable than Joey is crazy. The one difference is who hits behind Joey (no Foster, Bench, Perez). Morgan does play better defense obviously.

      • lwblogger2

        Morgan may be my favorite Red of all time. Votto put up some fantastic numbers but give me my pick of Morgan or Votto and I pick Morgan any time. Love the “Didn’t Morgan know he wasn’t being paid to walk?” line. The knocks on Votto about taking so many walks are beyond absurd. Heck, almost 40 of Votto’s walks in 2012 and 2013 were IBB. He led the league in IBB in 2012 and 2013 and in 2012 he only had 475 PA. You have to also figure that he was simply pitched around an awful lot both those years.

      • Thegaffer

        The reason Rose is at leadoff is 1) most other all time Reds are power hitters 2) he did actually hit leadoff for many of the BRM years 3) Larkin is arguably the best 2 hole hitter of modern times.

  4. preacherj

    During his playing days I often said that if I was starting a team, and I didn’t know who was going to be on it and I had to pick a singular player to begin with, it would be Barry Larkin. No matter what part of the game you might need help in or where you needed someone to hit, he would be the most complete player you could ask for.

  5. cfd3000

    One of my favorite Reds ever. Late in his career he still had never hit a grand slam. I remember in 2001 I was traveling in Asia checking box scores with no access to highlights or wrap ups and one April day there it was – Larkin had homered with 4 RBI and I knew the dugout must have gone nuts when it happened. I was so happy for him but eventually stopped trying to explain to our non-baseball savvy hosts why I was suddenly so happy that day. Another tip of the cap in a long string of appreciation. Thank you Mr. Larkin!

  6. Tom Reed

    What is there to say about Barry Larkin except that he was as solid and as well rounded a ballplayer who ever put on a Reds uniform.

  7. Ohioindiaspora

    Barry Larkin was my childhood baseball heroe, and will probably be my favorite player of all time