Recently my new BFF It's Harambe took on the thankless task of asking his fellow MgoBloggers to rank the top 25 Michigan athletes of all time. As the list was revealed it was clear to this reader that some of the most notable players who competed during the athletic stone age (pre-internet) had been forgotten about. This weekly diary will take a look at the more notable players from our past to remind everyone of what they did and why they deserve to be honored and remembered.
Dusty Baker, Reds manager
"Barry not only was one of the most talented and gifted players, but he was one of the most intelligent on and off the field. He had great speed but had the ability to slow down the game, so he made very few mistakes. He is one of the few players who maximized the ability he was born with. Barry could do it all. He is the six-tool player all the scouts are looking for now, one with all the baseball skills plus intellect."
One of the more glaring omissions in the top 25 greatest Michigan athletes poll was the absence of any baseball or hockey players on the list when in fact; one of the greatest baseball players of all time was a “Michigan Man” – Barry Larkin.
Larkin accepted a football scholarship to the University of Michigan to play for legendary coach Bo Schembechler, but during his freshman year he decided to play baseball exclusively
Born April 28, 1964, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Larkin was an honor student and athletic star at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School and enrolled at the University of Michigan with the idea of playing both baseball and football. But when legendary UM football coach Bo Schembechler advised Larkin to redshirt his freshman year, Larkin’s path to Cooperstown began. “The best decision Bo Schembechler ever made, in my opinion,” Larkin said. “It allowed me to focus on only one sport (baseball) for the first time.” . He was a two-time All-American and led the Wolverines to berths in two College World Series, in 1983 and 1984 (the last time Michigan reached the finals). Larkin was also named Big Ten Player of the Year in 1984 and 1985.
After earning a spot on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Baseball Team, Larkin was taken by the Reds with the fourth overall pick in the 1985 MLB Draft.
Larkin finished seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1985 despite playing just 41 games. The next season, he won the Reds’ starting shortstop job, and by 1988 Larkin was a first-time All-Star with a .296 average, 91 runs scored, 32 doubles and 40 stolen bases.
In 1990, Larkin finished seventh in the NL MVP voting after hitting .301 with 30 steals and 67 RBIs. The Reds went wire-to-wire in winning the NL West that year, then dispatched the Pirates and the A’s in the postseason to win the World Series. In the four-game sweep over Oakland in the Fall Classic, Larkin hit .353 and scored three runs.
Larkin began to develop power in 1991 when he hit 20 homers, and his all-around play continued to improve. He won the first of three consecutive Gold Glove awards in 1994, was named the NL MVP in 1995 after hitting .319 en route to the Reds’ NL Central title and trip to the NLCS, and became the first shortstop – and just the second Reds player – to post a 30-homer/30-steal season in 1996.
“I’m not a home run hitter,” said Larkin, who hit five home runs in two consecutive days in 1991 – another first for a shortstop. “I’m a line drive hitter. (In 1996), I hit (33) line drives that went over the fence.”
Larkin was also a role model off the field, winning the Roberto Clemente Award in 1993 and the Lou Gehrig Award in 1994.
Larkin retired after the 2004 season – he was named an All-Star in his final year in the big leagues – with a .295 career average, 2,340 hits, 1,329 runs scored and 379 stolen bases. Larkin scored at least 80 runs in a season seven times, hit 30-plus doubles in six seasons and stole 30-or-more bases five times. He won his three Gold Glove awards at shortstop en route to a career fielding percentage of .975, and won nine Silver Slugger awards. He played every one of his 19 big league seasons with the Reds.
Larkin's number 16 was retired by Michigan on May 1, 2010.