Larkin Was Epitome Of Professional Athlete

We live in a ‘me first’ universe anymore.  “What’s in it for me” has replaced “treat others as you’d like to be treated”.   Ours is a time of sound bites, short attention and a complete disregard of history.  As an older person (I said older not old), I’d like to think it’s a generational thing (what are we up to now, Generation Z?).   But it’s not.   This cuts across all demographics.

I say this because the Baseball Writers of America elected someone to the Hall Of Fame this week who is the antithesis of the “what’s in it for me” mentality.  Barry Larkin was a lot of things during his Major League Baseball career.  Self absorbed wasn’t one of them.

Larkin was the epitome of what a professional athlete should be.

I first met Larkin in Tampa in the spring of 1987.  I was just leaving that city to continue my career in Cincinnati.   I came here because of the weather.  I was misinformed (Rick Blaine, Casablanca).  Larkin had been with the Reds briefly in 1986 and ’87 was going to be his first, full year in Cincinnati.  Maybe that’s why I identify with him so much.  Our careers here have run parallel.

But that’s not why I admire him.

What I found out about Barry Larkin as we arrived in his hometown, my adopted one, was a young man determined to make tomorrow better than today.  There was never anything he accomplished that couldn’t be improved.  If he had two hits today, he worked to get three the next.  If a ball wasn’t delivered from him to his second baseman on a double play in the exact way it should have (regardless of the outcome of the play) he would work on that in pre game practice the next.  It wasn’t that he was a perfectionist,  he just wanted to get better.  I got that, because what’s driven me for a few years longer than Larkin is the understanding that if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

But that’s not why I admire him.

I watched Larkin grow into a veteran player.  He had an uncanny ability to maneuver among his team mates, white and black, Anglo and Latin.   He could speak a little Spanish, most ball players can do that, learning that as they come up through a team’s minor league system.   Here’s a little known story about Larkin.  When he ascended to the role of Reds team captain, he took it upon himself in the off-season to really learn the Spanish language, to be able to speak it and understand it fluently.  He wanted to do that, so none of his Latin team mates would feel excluded, or not understand what a coach or manager expected.  How many people do you know in your work place who would do that to make a work day go smoother?

But that’s not why I admire him.

Larkin was injured a lot in his career.  He missed an average of just under 40-games per season and some feared that the writers who vote to elect Hall Of Fame inductees would hold that against him.  My contention was it made him an even more attractive candidate.  He logged 19 major league seasons.   But if his injuries made his de facto number of seasons 15, his stolen base total (379) home runs (198) and rbi total (960) become even more impressive.  Factor in a fielding average of .975, which is just three-thousandths of a percentage point worse than Ozzie Smith who never had Larkin’s offense numbers, and you had one of the most complete ball players in the history of the game.  I’m old enough to have seen Tony Kubek, Luis Aparicio, Davy Concepcion and Smith play.  Larkin was a better short stop than all of them.  He was the best I ever saw at his position.

But that’s not why I admire him.

I admire Barry Larkin because he carried himself as a professional both on and off the field.  It’s not difficult for a player to comport himself as a professional on the field.  Off the field, more than a few of the great ones have struggled.   Larkin is from a rock solid family, Cincinnati sports royalty.  Larkin has a rock solid family of his own.  You don’t get either of those without working at it.  And too often today, a lot of us don’t like that kind of heavy lifting.  Barry Larkin embraces it.  A cynic might say with the money he’s earned in his career, that’s easy to do.  Really?   Have you been paying attention to Hollywood the last 100 years?

I don’t think it’s any accident that Larkin’s bump in vote total went from 62% in 2011 to 86% this year.  I think what I’ve seen, others have too.  I think the reason why Barry Larkin is now a Baseball Hall Of Famer has as much to do with the person he is, as the ballplayer he was.   They don’t have a Hall Of Fame for people who live their lives the right way, think of others before themselves and humbly accept the talents that God has given them and use those talents wisely.  But if they did, Larkin would be an inaugural electee.

That’s why I admire Barry Larkin, Hall Of Fame, Class of 2012.

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About kenbroo

Multiple EMMY Award Winning Sports Director At Cincinnati's WLWT News 5 and Sports Talk Host At 700 WLW
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