Fans of the Cincinnati Reds are proud of the legends who have graced Queen City baseball field over the decades, and the names live forever in the diamond Valhalla of our collective memories: Fred Hutchinson, Big Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan. With the exception of Rose, those luminaries share the distinction of having their uniform numbers retired by the Reds, joined in that honored fraternity by "Big Red Machine" members Tony Perez, Sparky Anderson and Dave Concepcion. Although he may not have benefited from the camaraderie and on-the-field support that earlier Redlegs enjoyed, 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Barry Larking certainly qualifies as a Cincinnati Reds legend, and the team is preparing to bestow perhaps the ultimate honor on their longtime standout shortstop. On August 7, the Reds announced that they would retire Larkin's number 11 uniform during a eleven-day soiree planned to commemorate Larkin's Cincy career.
Even among the huge names in Cincinnati's baseball pantheon, Larkin stands out like no other. Not only did he put together a stellar career that saw him win a National League MVP award and establish himself as one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game, but Larkin is, and has been, a Cincinnati phenomenon from start to finish. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Larkin starred at Moeller High School before showing a temporary lack of judgement, spurning the Reds after they drafted him in the second round of the 1982 draft and opting instead to attend the University of Michigan. Undaunted, the Reds targeted him again in 1985, picking him fourth overall, and they finally got their man. He made his major league debut less than a year later, and never really looked back, even though I remember that he had to scramble for playing time with Kurt Stillwell, who was also highly esteemed at the time.
Now, three decades after the Reds and their fans first laid claim to Larkin, it is clear that he is the one who captured our hearts and imaginations with his consistently excellent play, his humble demeanor and his forever ties to the organization and the community. No other Hall of Famer who spent his entire career with the Reds played nearly as long as Larkin, and no one did it all with as much class as Number 11. It couldn't be more fitting that the Reds will honor Larkin for such an extended period, and it would be great to see him have more of a role with the team as the rich patina builds on the polish of his storybook career.
Adam Hughes was raised, and still lives, in rural Indiana. He has been a Cincinnati Reds fan since the early 1980s, when gods like Dan Driessen and Cesar Cedeno roamed the ethereally green Riverfront turf. He thinks that Dusty Baker is the anti-Davey.