MLB.com Columnist

Meggie Zahneis

Hall of Famer Larkin has long list of admirers

Meggie: Larkin has long list of admirers

CINCINNATI -- The Hall of Fame ceremony is over.

Barry Larkin already is a Cooperstownian, has been since July 22.

But the celebration is still going strong, thanks to the 11 Days of Larkin in Cincinnati.

The festivities -- which began on Aug. 16 and will continue through Sunday -- are ongoing at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. Other commemorations include the giveaway of a Larkin hat, a "Barry Blast" fireworks display and a Reds Community Fund charity block party.

Most importantly, Larkin's No. 11 will join the ranks of the Reds' retired jersey numbers. It's good company, to be sure: Fred Hutchinson's No. 1, Johnny Bench's No. 5, Joe Morgan's No. 8, Sparky Anderson's No. 10, Dave Concepcion's No. 13, Ted Kluszewski's No. 18, Frank Robinson's No. 20, Tony Perez's No. 24 and, of course, Jackie Robinson's No. 42 are the others.

It's elite company, sure, but deserved company as well.

Anyone who meets Larkin will pick up on that right away.

"You could tell right away that, No. 1, he always had a smile on his face, and he was just a neat kid to be around," recalled Mike Cameron, Larkin's coach at Moeller High School. "But he also was so gifted athletically, didn't make any difference if it was baseball, football or basketball."

Larkin played all three. In fact, he had to make the decision as to whether to pursue baseball or football in college.

Cameron picked up on his protégé's bent for baseball right away, but he never thought Larkin would make it this far.

"I knew he was special, and I knew he was a very exceptional high school baseball player," said Cameron. "By his senior year, I knew he would be able to go on and play at the college level, at a high level. I knew he had a chance at playing pro baseball, but that he would play 19 years and be a Hall of Famer? No, I can't [say that I suspected that]."

But everyone knew Larkin was something special.

"Even in the Minor Leagues, when I saw him play, he seemed to be in the right place at the right time," recalled Larkin's onetime teammate and current Reds broadcaster Chris Welsh.

"[Larkin] was very versatile. When he played for Davey Johnson, they needed a leadoff hitter. Well, Davey said, 'He's my best leadoff hitter. He's my best No. 2 hitter, and he's my best No. 3 hitter.' And [Johnson] asked reporters, 'Where do you think I should bat him?' " Welsh laughed. "[Larkin] was always a really smart player."

Cameron agrees: "[Larkin] caught on to things. That was one of his skill sets that he had. He was an intelligent player, whether it be football -- because I also coached him three years in football; I was his position coach [for] defensive backs.

"He would catch onto things very quickly. He needed work. He needed to get the ground balls, he needed to work on his hitting. He was very coachable that way. He wasn't a kid who, even though he was by far the best athlete on the team and best baseball player, [wouldn't work hard]. He still worked hard and would take whatever coaching you would give him."

Cameron remembers one game in particular, when Moeller played a league rival.

"We were ahead by a couple of runs, and it seemed like in the later innings they would get a couple of runners on in scoring position and then invariably the ball would be hit to Barry. And by the seventh inning, when the ball was hit to Barry and [the other] coach saw it was going to him, [the coach] just started to walk to the dugout. He knew it was over," Cameron said. "It just seemed like every critical out, Barry made. That's pretty hard in high school for a kid to do that, one play after another."

But people remember Larkin just as much for his personality as for his playing. That includes Dayton Daily News sportswriter Hal McCoy, who was honored by the Hall of Fame in 2002 as the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award

"I covered Barry the entire [time] he was here," McCoy said. "He was a classic leader. If anybody deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, it's him.

"Not only was he a great player, he was [also] a great leader. They never had any problems with any players while Barry was with the Reds because he had a knack of taking all the young players aside and teaching them how to be professionals, how to deal with the media and how to be a professional player. [Larkin] ran the clubhouse with an iron fist. And he didn't have to say much; he just led by example. But if something needed to be said, he would say it."

Welsh shared that view of Larkin.

"I was very happy for him when he won the [1990] MVP [Award] of the [National] League, because it was the first time in years that I thought that the voters took into account his leadership qualities as part of being an MVP," Welsh said. "Normally, it's numbers. You know -- most home runs and runs batted in, it's an equation almost. But I think they took the intangibles of what [Larkin] meant to the team [into consideration]."

Reds director of media relations Rob Butcher, who worked with Larkin from 1997 on, admired the Hall of Famer's ability to take everything in stride.

"He was a superstar who acknowledged and accepted the responsibility of being a superstar," Butcher said. "Some players want the fame and glory but don't want to deal with the responsibilities attached to that status. Barry knew that when it came to the Reds, he was the center of attention.

"He accepted those responsibilities and always responded appropriately in his dealings with other players, fans and media. He is one of the most professional players, on both personal and work-related levels, I've ever worked with.

"You can get a sense of a player's place in history when he plays every day against his peers. Some players clearly are better than others. I think everyone in our organization always felt Barry was a Hall of Famer, because for so long, he was the best player on the Reds, and we watched him every day.

"Personally, I knew he was going to get in when I put together his post-career bio and started comparing his career numbers to the shortstops already in Cooperstown and to the shortstops he played against. When you look at those numbers in black and white, then throw in 12 All-Star Games, three Gold Gloves, nine Silver Sluggers an MVP Award and a World Series title, there is no question he was worthy of Cooperstown."

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.