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MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Praise for Larkin stretches far and wide

Bodley: Praise for Larkin stretches far and wide

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Praise for Larkin stretches far and wide

MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

NEW YORK -- Lou Piniella took over as Cincinnati Reds manager in 1990 and quickly realized he had a championship-caliber team on his hands. His first objective was to get all the players on the same page -- his page.

That's when he turned to Barry Larkin, reasoning the multi-talented shortstop was the best candidate to get his message across.

"He was outstanding," Piniella told MLB.com soon after Larkin was elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday. "He was a quiet leader, but the players respected him. I cannot say enough about what he meant to the Reds -- and me."

The Reds swept the Oakland A's in the 1990 World Series, with the young shortstop batting .353.

Of all the praise Larkin received Monday after the announcement, it's doubtful any equaled Piniella's.

"He's one of the smartest players I've ever managed," Piniella said from his Tampa home. "He knew the game so well. He studied the hitters and was always in the right position. His range as a shortstop was unbelievable."

Larkin oozes with humility. He said after Monday's announcement "that [Piniella] has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember" and a key reason why he learned to play baseball "the right way."

He added: "I'm incredibly, incredibly honored by the whole experience, and so excited about being the newest member of the Hall of Fame."

That is probably an understatement, but because Larkin played in a such small media town away from the glare of a big city, he might have been one of baseball's best-kept secrets.

Yes, he was an All-Star 12 times, won three Gold Gloves, was named the National League Most Valuable Player in 1995 and added nine Silver Slugger Awards.

The problem was Larkin played in the enormous shadows cast by the likes of Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. He didn't get the recognition he deserved.

"I agree he was overshadowed somewhat by those guys," said Piniella, who managed A-Rod in Seattle. "That shouldn't take away from what he meant to the Reds or what great talent he possessed.

"You know, he learned Spanish so he could better communicate with his teammates."

Larkin joins Johnny Bench and Bid McPhee as Hall of Famers who played their entire careers with the Reds. He's the 48th Hall of Famer who played his entire career with one team.

Piniella calls Larkin's election a feel-good story.

"He grew up in Cincinnati and was a fan of the Big Red Machine," said Piniella. "It's just a great story."

Larkin, like Ken Griffey Jr., attended Moeller High School and actually was drafted twice by the Reds. He turned down a $50,000 signing bonus in 1982 to attend the University of Michigan, where he was twice a baseball All-American.

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The Reds picked Larkin again in 1985, and he became their starting shortstop in 1987, replacing Dave Concepcion, one of his favorite Cincinnati players.

That he grew up a fan of the great Big Red Machine teams makes Larkin's Hall of Fame induction even more meaningful to him.

Concepcion was still playing when Larkin reached the Majors in August 1986. Larkin said Concepcion drilled him on the finer points of fielding and practicing bad hops, even though he knew he was being replaced.

Larkin is the first Cincinnati player to be inducted since Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez, the trio that helped the Reds win consecutive World Series in 1975-76.

"This puts him among the elite players in Reds history," said Bench. "He distinguished himself as a tremendous leader and a dominating player."

Or, as Morgan put it: "Barry Larkin's election to the Hall of Fame comes at a time when statistics are as important as the eye test, and Barry passes both tests. When you watched him play, you knew he was a special player."

It's fitting that Bench, Morgan and Perez will be on the stage in Cooperstown on July 22 when Larkin, along with the late Ron Santo (elected in December by the Golden Era Committee) will be inducted.

Larkin gave the Atlanta Braves fits when he played against them, prompting legendary manager Bobby Cox to comment, "Barry Larkin was a dream player. He was an outstanding leader who had great physical skills. When you look at his all-around talent and ability in the field, at the plate and on the bases, he might very well have been one of the top two or three shortstops of all time."

Cox added Larkin was the type of player you'd choose "first or second if building a team from scratch."

The adjectives continued to flow from Piniella as he kept searching for the right words to describe Larkin.

Finally, without hesitation, he said: "He's just one of my favorite players I ever managed. He's an outstanding individual -- both on and off the field."

Enough said.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["hall_of_fame" ] }
{"content":["hall_of_fame" ] }
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