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July 22, 2012

Larkin enshrined

Barry Larkin grew up dreaming of playing baseball for his hometown Cincinnati Reds. He not only realized that fantasy throughout his 19-year Major League career, but joined the pantheon of the game's greats as the most recent inductee into the baseball Hall of Fame July 22.

One of the great shortstops of his generation, Larkin is only the fourth inductee with U-M ties, and the first since former Wolverine manager Branch Rickey was enshrined in 1967.

"This is unbelievable," said an emotional Larkin during his induction speech. "I grew up in Cincinnati during the era of the Big Red Machine - many of the members that I cheered for are sitting behind me.

"I, like many other young players at the time, grew up dreaming about the honor of playing for the Reds and representing the city of Cincinnati."

The Cincinnati Moeller High School product quickly became the face of the storied Reds franchise, and spent the entirety of his professional career with the team he grew up rooting for.

But on his way to the big leagues, he made a three-year pit stop in Ann Arbor, and received perhaps the most influential advice of his athletic life from a man who made a living on the sidelines rather than in the dugout.

"I am so proud to have attended and graduated from the University of Michigan," the 12-time All Star said. "I want to thank Bo Schembechler, who is watching down on us today, for recruiting me to play football. He redshirted me my freshman year and told me that he was going to allow me just to play baseball.

"Occasionally I would call him while I was playing in the big leagues, and I told him that was the best decision he ever made as a football coach. He didn't like that too much."

Larkin proved to be one of the more likeable personalities in baseball, excelling both on the field and as a leader in the locker room. The long-time Reds' captain earned nine Silver Slugger awards, three Gold Gloves and was named the MVP of the league in 1995. He was also a key cog for Cincinnati's 1990 World Series-winning squad, and finished his professional career with 2,340 hits, 379 stolen bases, 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, and a .295 career batting average.

"It was certainly a dream come true to play for my hometown team," Larkin said. "It was a surreal experience. And I think equally impressive was the kind of people and the quality of people I came into contact with as a result of living out that dream."

In his three campaigns as a Wolverine (1983-85), Larkin was named first-team All America twice by the Baseball Coaches Association of America (1984,85), and helped lead U-M to a Big Ten title in 1984 and two College World Series appearances (1983,84).

In his final season in the Maize and Blue, the junior speedster maintained an astounding .368 batting average while smashing 16 home runs and stockpiling 66 RBIs - good enough to become the first shortstop in Big Ten history to earn a second-consecutive conference player of the year award.

His No. 16 Michigan jersey was retired in 2010, and he cracks the top 10 in U-M's career record book in stolen bases (ninth, 44), batting average (10th, .361), triples (third, 13)and runs scores (fifth, 172).

In a touching moment, Larkin's daughter, Cymber, opened up the ceremony with an inspirational rendition of the national anthem.

"I don't know if it gets any better," Larkin said. "It was comforting to see her go out there in front of the thousands of people here, and millions of people watching across the world, and do her thing.

"She is awesome and inspiring. I don't know if I can come up with the proper words at this time, but it was special."

The 2012 Hall of Fame induction ceremony ensures that Larkin's special career will not only be forever remembered in Cincinnati and Ann Arbor, but across the entirety of the baseball world.


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