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Barry M. Bloom

Before induction, Larkin visits HOF for first time

Before induction, Larkin visits HOF for first time

Before induction, Larkin visits HOF for first time

MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Barry Larkin toured the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday as a preface to his July induction. At 48 years old, it was his first visit to the hallowed red-bricked museum nestled near the edge of Main Street in what this time of year is certainly a sleepy little village.

The onetime Reds shortstop and current ESPN baseball analyst has a draft of his acceptance speech ready. But even after viewing two floors of exhibits and an artifacts area tucked away in the basement, Larkin said it still hasn't hit him that he's the 24th shortstop in the Hall and 11th elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"You know, man, I feel like Teflon," Larkin said. "It's hard. I feel it, but when people introduce me as Hall of Famer, I go, 'Let's temper that a little bit. I'm not actually in yet.'"

That is still to come. He will be inducted behind the nearby Clark Sports Center during this year's ceremonies on July 22, joining legendary Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, who was elected posthumously to the Hall this past December by the Golden Era Committee. Santo will be represented by his wife, Vicki, and thousands of Cubbie fans.

Ford C. Frick Award winner and FOX color analyst Tim McCarver, plus J.G. Taylor Spink Award electee Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun will be honored in a separate ceremony on July 21 at Doubleday Field.

After viewing the fabled plaque room, Larkin could only wonder in awe at his inclusion in what former Reds second baseman and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan told him was "the greatest collection of athletes in the history of sports, the greatest fraternity of ballplayers."

"This is off the charts as far as something that I could even dream about [as a kid]," Larkin said. "Whoever was plugged around me was how I defined my role. Before my election, I felt like Hall of Fame players were all able to say, 'This is what I bring to the table. I'm so good that no matter what you do you're not going to be able to deal with this.'

"I'm having trouble trying to define what 'this' is in my situation."

For Larkin, "this" is the 1990 World Series ring and the 1995 National League Most Valuable Player Award. "This" is 19 years in the big leagues, all of them playing for his hometown team in Cincinnati. He was a 12-time NL All-Star who won three Gold Gloves and nine Silver Slugger Awards at a time when the Cardinals' Ozzie Smith dominated the league defensively.

His .295 lifetime batting average was 33 points higher than that of Smith, who was elected to the Hall in 2002. Cal Ripken Jr., elected along with Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn in 2007, hit .277 as a shortstop, the position he played for most of his stellar 21-year career with the Orioles.

All "this" was enough for the BBWAA to give Larkin 86.4 percent of the vote in only his third year on the ballot. To gain admittance, a player must receive at least 75 percent of the vote. There are only 297 elected members, 207 of them former big league players, and just 112 of those players were elected by the BBWAA.

More than 16,000 players have been in at least one Major League Baseball game. That more than anything reveals how exclusive a club the Baseball Hall of Fame is. No wonder the eloquent and cerebral Larkin is still starry-eyed about it.

Never at a loss for words, he said that he's had trouble describing his feelings during the four months since his election. Not on Saturday.

"It's been exciting. It's been great. It's been fantastic. It's been humbling. It's been all that," he said.

"It has been fan-tas-tic," he added, stretching out the word. "Guys have told me that this is going to change my life. And I think it's changed the perception people had of me and my career. I'm sitting around the house and Richard Gossage calls me. I get home and my son tells me that Rod Carew left me a message and wants me to call him back. Hank Aaron, too. Hank Aaron?"

Of the all the exhibits that Larkin passed by -- accompanied by his wife, Lisa -- he seemed most interested in the various displays honoring the Reds.

The bat Billy Hatcher used to knock out the last of his seven consecutive hits in Cincinnati's sweep of the A's in the 1990 World Series. The cap that left-hander Tom Browning wore for the Reds on Sept. 16, 1988, when he pitched a perfect game. Larkin was the shortstop that day in a 1-0 victory over the Dodgers, scoring the only run and recording four assists. A bat used by Pete Rose for the 1975-76 Reds, the last NL team to win back-to-back World Series titles. Larkin was 11 and 12 at the time, rooting his heart out.

The Rose bat reminded Larkin of his first game in the Major Leagues, on Aug. 13, 1986, when the all-time leader with 4,256 hits was Cincinnati's manager. Larkin was recalled from Triple-A Denver and had a devil of a time making it to Cincinnati. He ran into weather conditions all along the way until finally arriving at Riverfront Stadium a half hour before a 7:30 p.m. ET game.

"I had no bags, no nothing," Larkin recalled. "I ran into Pete coming out his office and he jokes with me, 'First day on the job and you're already late.' He hugged and congratulated me and asked me if I had any stuff."

When the answer came back, "No," Rose gave Larkin his bat and some baseball shoes, which he used when he pinch-hit in his first big league game, knocking in a fifth-inning run with an infield grounder. Afterward, Rose stopped by Larkin's locker to give him a pat on the back for a belated job well done. Rose then asked for the shoes and the bat. Larkin had to give them back.

"Damn," Larkin recalled. "They were going home with me and he was not going to see them again."

Now, it's nearly 26 years later, and Larkin has found a home in the Hall with everyone else's treasured bats, spikes and those 295 other plaques.

And no one can ever take that away from him.

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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