Tour de Cooperstown

Barry Larkin overwhelmed by visit to Hall of Fame on Saturday as part of Orientation Tour

May 05, 2012

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – While dreams of athletic success are sometimes accomplished, some players find themselves at a level beyond all expectations. Such was the case for Barry Larkin on Saturday when he visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for the first time.

 “I remember as a kid dreaming about being a good player, dreaming about playing in the World Series, dreaming about being in the All-Star Game, dreaming about having my own spikes, I remember all that. But it stopped at some point,” said Larkin at the end of his Orientation Tour. “That point was winning the World Series. So this is kind of off the charts as far as something that I could even dream about.”

Larkin, the longtime shortstop of the Cincinnati Reds who celebrated his 48th birthday a week ago, was in Cooperstown with wife Lisa in preparation of the July 20-23 Hall of Fame Weekend. Elected on his third time on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in January, receiving 86.4 percent of the vote, Larkin will be joined in the Class of 2012 by the late Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo, chosen by the Golden Era Committee. The Induction Ceremony is July 22 in Cooperstown.

 As part of the orientation process, all incoming Hall of Famers are given a tour of the Museum by Senior Director of Exhibits and Collections Erik Strohl. 

“I expected to see a lot of baseball stuff but it has exceeded my expectations,” Larkin said. “I had this idea of what I thought I would see, and I saw a bunch of what I thought I would see, but actually being in the physical presence of it adds a different dynamic to it.

“I think it’s the amount of baseball history that’s here, the quality of the baseball history that’s here, being here, all that. There are some incredible pieces that sparked a lot of memories. Wow … very impressive.”

While traversing through the Museum, Larkin, dressed casually in blue jeans and a black shirt, was amazed at the collective career of Yankees teammates Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (“Crazy, crazy”), was in shocked disbelief at the small size of gloves in the early part of the 20th century (“I think I’d have a problem with that”), and smiled when he checked out an exhibit space dedicated to the 1970s Big Red Machine teams from his childhood in Cincinnati (“It’s great see when these guys get back together”).

The Reds have been well represented with Hall of Fame plaques in recent years, honoring such legends as Johnny Bench, Tony Pérez and Sparky Anderson, but when the tour ended and Larkin was shown where his bronze likeness would find a home in the Plaque Gallery after his induction on Sunday, July 22, he seemed taken aback.

“When people introduce me as Hall of Famer I go, ‘Let’s temper that a little bit. I’m not actually in yet,’” he said. “Before my election, I felt like Hall of Fame players were guys like, ‘This is what I bring to the table. This is what you have to deal with, and this that I do is so good that it really doesn’t make a difference what you do, you’re not going to be able to deal with this.’ I’m having a problem defining what this is in my situation.”

Larkin’s impressive resume includes 19 seasons with the Reds, where he compiled a .295 batting average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs, 198 home runs, 960 RBI and 379 stolen bases. The 12-time All-Star captured the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1995, became the first big shortstop to record a 30 home run/30 steal season in 1996, and led the Reds to the World Series title in 1990.

According to Larkin, since he received the Jan. 9 phone call informing him of his election to the Hall of Fame, the change to his lifestyle has been hard to put in words.

“It’s been a lot of talking about it, a lot of trying to find the right words to describe it,” he said. “It’s been exciting, it’s been great, it’s been fantastic, it’s been humbling, it’s been all that. Guys have told me this was going to change my life. I think it has changed the perception that people have had of me and my career.”

Another change has been memorable conversations he’s had.

“I’m sitting around the house and Richard Gossage calls me. I get home and Rod Carew left me and message and wants me to call him back. ‘Dad, Hank Aaron called you,’” a humbled Larkin recalled with amazement. “I said, ‘Mr. Carew, sir, how do I address you.’ He said, ‘Call me Rod.’ I said, ‘I don’t think I can do that.’

“Joe Morgan was one of the first guys I talked to after I was elected and he said, ‘I just want to welcome you to the greatest collection of athletes in the history of sports, the greatest fraternity of ballplayers in history.’ I said, ‘Wow.’”

As for his induction speech, which will be heard from a stage in front of tens of thousands in Cooperstown and countless millions on television, Larkin, currently working as an analyst with ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, admits he’s been jokingly warned by his fellow members of the Hall of Fame to keep it short. How short? He’s not exactly sure.

“I have shown what I have written to some people. I know what I want to say, it’s just a matter of formatting it. It’s very consistent with everything that I’ve done throughout my career,” Larkin said. “It will be very complimentary to people that have been instrumental in my development. Anything else would be out of character.”

Finally, when asked if he’s expecting many friends and family to attend his big day this summer, Larkin grinned and said, “I don’t know if this town is going to handle all the red that’s going to be here that weekend.”

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum