Barry Larkin wanted to be a shortstop ever since he was a kid watching his idol, Ozzie Smith, on television. Growing up in the Cincinnati suburbs, Larkin wanted to play for the legendary Cincinnati Reds and replace Dave Concepcion at short.
He says his dream was to replace Concepcion and then become the greatest shortstop in Reds history.
“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.”
June 2, 1985: With the fourth overall pick in the MLB Draft, the Cincinnati Reds select shortstop Barry Larkin from the University of Michigan. #RedsVault
After college, Larkin played on the 1984 US Olympic Team. When he got to the Reds, he eventually replaced Concepcion.
Larkin also wanted to wear No.1 to honor his idol Ozzie, but the equipment manager told Larkin the number was retired and permanently reserved for Fred Hutchinson.
Larkin had no idea who Hutchinson was, but he asked for No.11 to reinforce how much he admired and idolized “The Wizard of Ozzie”
Barry eventually wrestled the Gold Glove away from Ozzie, won an MVP Award, and had his number retired by the Reds also.
Of the great shortstops, Larkin possibly has the best compilation of skills: He could run as fast as teammate Eric Davis, he possessed the strongest arm among the shortstops of his generation — and only Ozzie was better with the web.
A multi-faceted batter, Larkin concentrated on hitting for average, stealing bases and setting the table. But he was capable of going deep when the situation called for it. He stole 51 bases in 141 games, while winning the NL MVP in 1995, but for some reason was criticized for not driving in enough runs, so he came back the following season and banged all his critics in the head with 33 home run and 36 steals at the age of 32.
The Injury Bug
It’s hard to discuss Larkin without mentioning his injury-riddled history. He was placed on the disabled list fourteen times in his career. He only had 6 seasons where he didn’t spend time on the DL.
Those injuries (legs, thumbs, knee, shoulders, and even his toe), sidelined him for 450 career games. That alone probably cost him another 450-500 hits with his batting prowess. The talent was always evident, but despite his HOF swag, and championship pedigree, he always faced criticism, and was even referred to as “Mr. Glass.”
He had to continuously prove himself and relied on a strong will to overcome setbacks.
Larkin was a 12-time All-Star, including his final season when he was still a valuable player. Despite his frequent absence from the lineup, Larkin was always a great teammate and team leader.
He was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012, following a career also garnered him an MVP (1995), World Series Title (1990), three Gold Glove Awards and nine Silver Slugger Awards.
He was simply a stud up the middle and one of the finest examples of MLBbro excellence at the shortstop position.
Mr. Cub is probably the greatest African-American shortstop to grace the MLB diamond. Banks not only set the standard for black shortstops, but he was the first true power-hitting shortstop in MLB. Banks was A-Rod before A-Rod, an icon who changed the game by providing uncanny power at a position previously reserved for slap hitters.
Banks played 19 years for a losing Cubs franchise and was Wrigley Field’s only bright spot for two decades as he clubbed 512 career homers. In his prime from 1957-1960, averaged a .293 batting average, 44 HR, 123 RBI and won back-to-back NL MVP awards in ’58 and ’59.
“El Capitan” is one of the greatest winners MLB has ever seen. He was the Captain and clutch catalyst for a Yankees Dynasty that won five World Series rings between 1996 and 2009 and lived in the postseason.
Jeter, a 14-time All-Star, is the Yankees all-time hits leader with a whopping 3,465. He has a .310 career batting average and has won five Gold Gloves. His stats are Hall of Fame worthy, but don’t begin to tell the story of his marketing and cultural impact as the flawless face of baseball for 20 years. He led the Yankees to the top of the sports landscape by performing at his best in the biggest moments. “Ice in the veins” should be Jeter’s middle name.
He is arguably the greatest postseason hitter of all time, with a career .308 BA, 20 HR, 61 RBI, 18 SB line in 158 postseason games, earning the name “Mr. November.”
3. Barry Larkin
He was a Black Knight in beast mode as the premier National League shortstop of the 1990s. Larkin was a consistent offensive boss and formidable glove for an inconsistent Cincinnati Reds lineup. He was elected to the All-Star team every year from 1988-2000, winning eight Silver Slugger awards during that span.
Larkin, who played every one of his 19 seasons with the Reds, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012, 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.
Larkin won a World Series in 1990 and then did something that Jeter couldn’t accomplish when he took home NL MVP honors in 1995.
The Wizard is simply the greatest defensive infielder in MLB history and his 43.4 career defensive WAR is the best by any player at the position. Even with the defensive metrics on smash, his .978 fielding percentage and 13 Gold Gloves support his claim to the title of glove king.
Smith is the kind of once-in-a-lifetime talent that you would never understand based on numbers. He was truly a magician with the glove. He was also a huge personality in the game and understood the essence of entertainment as he began each game with his patented backflip.
Smith had artistry, flair, and athletic superiority that put him in another stratosphere. His fielding was so good that people often dogged him for his hitting, which is not shabby at all. Smith had a .262 career average and 2,460 hits. He’s also among the greatest base stealers of all-time with 580 career swipes.
“J-Roll” is one of the most offensively prolific shortstops the game has ever seen. He has 2,455 hits, which includes 511 doubles (53rd all-time), 115 triples, and 231 home runs. He ranks 103rd in career total bases and 83rd in extra-base hits. He’s also stolen 470 bases, good for 46th in MLB history. His 1,421 runs are good for 86th and 936 RBI from pretty much always being in a table-setting position is pretty solid as well.
He makes the all-time Top 20 in almost every offensive statistic for a shortstop and was the centerpiece of a Phillies team that won two NL pennants and a World Series in 2008. He has four Gold Gloves and four seasons of at least 10 Defensive Runs Saved.
J-Roll was a true soul patroller. His 2007 NL MVP award was the stamp that at some point he was the best at his position. Standing a diminutive 5-foot-7, 175-pounds, Rollins defied the odds and continues to be a living example of skills over scales when it comes to the sport of baseball.
Honorable Mention: Maury Wills
Wills didn’t get his Hall of Fame props from the writers, but he was an MLB pioneer and one of the fastest players in history.
Wills was finally nominated by the Golden Era committee in 2014, which could induct managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players for possible election in 2015, but he fell three votes short.
The barn-burner made a living off of his superior wheels as he stole 586 bases in his career, good for 20th all time.
The lack of respect for his career is indicative of the lost appreciation in the modern game for the stolen base, which was a staple of black excellence in baseball ever since No. 42 broke the color barrier in ’47. In 1960, Wills won the first of six straight National League stolen base crowns.