Larkin: Hall induction is 'unbelievable' moment
Former Reds shortstop enshrined among game's greats in Cooperstown
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- During his remarkable 19-season career as the Reds' shortstop, and even throughout Hall of Fame weekend leading up to his induction, Barry Larkin was often the epitome of cool, calm and collected.
But for one moment on Sunday afternoon as he took to the podium and had the magnitude of the moment wash over him, Larkin could not help himself.
"I'm going to tell you guys something before I get started. This is un-stinking-believable! Unbelievable!" Larkin shouted euphorically.
This was indeed Larkin's day and his moment, as he and Ron Santo became the latest inductees into the Hall of Fame. Yet in a fashion that was not surprising from someone who still frequently refers to himself as a "complementary player," Larkin focused little on himself and entirely on the many people that helped pave his path to Cooperstown.
Throughout his dynamic 33-minute speech at the Clark Sports Center, Larkin said thank you. It started with his parents, Robert and Shirley.
"I want to thank you guys for your guidance, your love and support," Larkin said. "Dad, thank you for introducing me to the game, showing me the way to do it the right way. Mom, you were the driving force in the family. ... If we were going to do something, we were going to do it right. You made sure of that."
When Larkin thanked his wife, Lisa, and their children, the 48-year-old became emotional, especially after he noticed that his mother was crying.
"JB, you told me I was going to get through this, man," Larkin said as he turned to fellow Red and Hall of Famer Johnny Bench behind him on stage.
Larkin acknowledged the many people that helped shape his baseball life -- from his Cincinnati-area neighborhood of Silverton to Moeller High School to his Midland select baseball team to the University of Michigan, USA Baseball and Minor League stops in Vermont and Denver.
The "thank yous" also became "gracias," as Larkin spent several moments speaking in Spanish.
"Much of my success as a person and as a baseball player is a product of many influential people in my life working together, giving of their time, their knowledge and themselves," Larkin said.
Several of the people identified were players with the Reds that took a 22-year-old rookie under their wings and helped make him great. They included Dave Parker, Davey Concepcion, Eric Davis, Buddy Bell, Tony Perez and his first manager, Pete Rose.
"I wanted to thank Pete for the opportunity," Larkin said. "I wouldn't be in the big leagues if he didn't give me that opportunity. His words of wisdom and his support and talking to me all the time, thank you, Pete Rose. I love you, man."
Concepcion, who was Larkin's Big Red Machine idol as a kid, was introduced to Larkin by Parker when Larkin was still playing college ball at Michigan.
"He grabs me by the hand and walks me right over to my idol's locker," Larkin said. "He says, 'Dave, you see this guy right here? This is Barry Larkin. He's from Cincinnati. He's going to take your job.' I'm saying, 'Oh my goodness. This is not how I was expecting this to go down.'"
Larkin would eventually do just what Parker predicted.
"Davey Concepcion, understanding, that I was gunning for his job, understanding that I was from Cincinnati, he spent countless and countless hours with me preparing me for the game," Larkin told the crowd. "Davey is a special, special individual. I appreciate you and I love you. Thank you, my idol."
Once Larkin took the job, he held it for 19 seasons through 2004 while winning a World Series with Cincinnati in 1990, a National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1995, and accepting the title of team captain in 1997.
Had it not been for a postgame intervention by Parker and Davis early in Larkin's career, this day might not have happened. Parker and Davis told Larkin they wanted him to go to the indoor cage at Riverfront Stadium to take some extra hitting.
"So I walk out to the cages, and all I see is this 6-foot-6 monster of a man in Dave Parker, and [Davis], sitting out there," Larkin said. "You see, they noticed I wasn't playing with the urgency and confidence that they knew I had within me. I can't repeat publicly how they encouraged me that evening, but let's just say that after that encounter, that in-your-face ultimatum, that defining moment, that I committed to playing with the urgency and the passion that led me down this path to the Hall of Fame."
Before he was finished, Larkin did not forget the fans. There were an estimated 18,000 of them -- many in Cincinnati Reds colors or Chicago Cubs blue for Santo -- and they cheered enthusiastically throughout the speech. Larkin let them know that they were greatly appreciated.
"You all were such a big part of motivating us and supporting us," Larkin said. "I was so happy to be able to share and celebrate that championship with the fans from my hometown and fans from across the world. The passion, the pride that year, was infectious. I want to thank you for your passion, thank you for your energy, thank you for your pride, and thank you for caring."
"We love you Barry," a fan shouted.
"I love you too, my man," Larkin called back.
Larkin is also one of just 207 players to be enshrined out of about 17,000 to have ever played the game. He can now count himself among the most elite one percent in all of sports.
The owner of a lifetime .295 batting average, Larkin had 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits, a .371 on-base percentage and 379 stolen bases. He was also a 12-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner and a nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
"As a player, I would often look in the mirror and question myself," Larkin said in closing. "Am I doing enough? Is there more? Could I do something a little bit different, something better? Could I try harder? Is this the right thing to do? I ask myself that question. I took a lot of pride in representing not only myself, but my family, the Reds organization, the city of Cincinnati. I admit and realize I wasn't always the easiest person to deal with. I acknowledge that at times I acted out. I made plenty of mistakes and didn't always handle situations as best I could.
"I humbly appreciate your acceptance of me and my shortcomings and your continued support for me and my family. For those questions I used to ask, well, no longer do I have to ask those questions anymore. The answer is forever written on my plaque in Cooperstown."