Larkin remains a Red

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, and going to baseball games and rooting for the Reds has been a fixture every summer for about the last 18 years. One thing that has been synonymous with the Reds in those 18 years is number 11, Barry Larkin.

Growing up, Larkin was one of my heroes. I cheered the loudest when his name was announced in the lineup, and I argued with my knothole teammates, trying in vain to get the uniform with the number 11 on it. I voted for him each and every season (including this year) on the fan ballot for the All-Star Game. I witnessed year after year as Larkin re-invented the way the shortstop position was played. I wanted to be just like him.

I can relate to him; he was born and raised in Cincinnati, he loved the Reds from a very early age and he had a quiet demeanor about him. He was the perfect role model. With his seemingly quiet personality, he leads by example, not by being loud and rallying the team with great speeches and words.

He was almost gone before he ever left. Last week, the Reds announced at a press conference that they would not re-sign Larkin for the 2004 season. The announcement signaled an end of an era, or so we thought. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Larkin was called out of the dugout in the middle of Sunday’s season finale and offered $700,000 to return next year. Larkin accepted the deal, which was $200,000 more than the Reds offered last week.

Larkin is nearing the end of a hall-of-fame career. His 18 years with the Reds is the longest than any current professional athlete has been with a team. In fact, Steve Yzerman, who has been with the Detroit Red Wings for 19 years, is the only player in professional sports who has been with the same team longer than Larkin.

I guess Barry really didn’t want to end this. Maybe he finally realized he wasn’t going to get the same kind of lucrative deal the Reds payed him in 2000. Larkin made $27 million over three years, and in those three years, because of injuries, Larkin played in only 260 of the 486 games the Reds played. In those 260 games, Larkin compiled a batting average of .261, hit just 11 homeruns and had only 82 runs batted in. Guess he finally figured out $700,000 was the best he was going to get.

This city loves Barry Larkin. He is the closest thing to being our generation’s Pete Rose. However it almost seems as somehow, Larkin has failed to embrace this notion.

Is it because he is a quiet guy? Or could it be that he just doesn’t enjoy the life and fame of professional sports?

We are lucky to see such a player and to experience such a professional.

Unlike many current athletes, Larkin has done nothing to harm his name or the name of his city and team in his time in baseball.

Since coming on the scene in 1984, Larkin has not done anything but be a family man, a guy that just wants to be left alone and go about his business. This is what we need more of.

This was a good move by the Reds, but it was a better move by Larkin. He has once again given the fans of this city and team what they want: Another chance to see number 11 patrol the shortstop position next season. To all Reds fans, enjoy it while you can. Players like this don’t come around all the time.