Monday, February 14, 2005
Nineteen summers. A couple of late summers, one bright October. Nineteen seasons with the same letter on a hat, the same name on the front of a jersey. The same fans cheering for the same guy at the same position on the same field for nineteen seasons of major league baseball.
Nineteen seasons, and Barry Larkin, at the age of 40, after having been selected to his 12th All-Star team last year and with many believing there's still some pop left in his bat, team captain since 1997, will retire a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Which is probably as it should be.
Larkin was born in Cincinnati and spent his entire major league career there. He was the National League's MVP in 1995 and was a dominant shortstop throughout the '90s, leading his team to a World Series sweep in 1990 and the NLCS in 1995. He became the first shortstop ever to hit 30 homeruns and steal 30 bases in one season in 1996.
Although leg injuries this past season limited his once-formidable baserunning skills and had taken a toll on his defense, Larkin still had a respectable bat and several teams showed interest in him early in the offseason, probably assuming that he would be a quality veteran to serve as a stabilizing influence on a team. Larkin, however, did not think this was a tenable option, and didn't string anyone along. He simply could not imagine himself playing anywhere but the Great American Ballpark: "I had some opportunities with other teams to play, but I didn't feel that I could make the commitment as a player with another team...I thought eventually I'd be able to say, yeah, I can do this. But I'm big on loyalty. I couldn't come to grips with making a 100-percent commitment (to another team)."
Larkin will be leaving on a slightly off-key note. He had clashed with the Reds front office several times in the past couple of seasons, and spent this last one mostly benched, initially due to an oblique injury. The fans in Cincy will remember him for the better memories he made with the team, though-- the five straight seasons hitting .300 or over starting in 1989, the three Gold Gloves ('94, '95, '96), those 12 All-Star games, the MVP in '95, the historic '96, the ring he picked up in 1990, the fact that he is the only shortstop in Major League history to have over 2,200 hits, 190 home runs, and 370 steals (thanks for the info, official Cincy Reds coverage).
Now, I personally couldn't give a flying tree frog about the Cincinnati Reds. They're National League, which is something that I am almost entirely unaware of for most of the season, with the exception of the Cubs (our comrades in misery for so long, now left to stew in the pot alone with their city-mates over at US Cellular) and the Mets (the enemy of my enemy is my friend, you know how it is). I can look at their roster and go, "Who? Who? Who? Oh yeah, Ken Griffey Jr, didn't he used to be a big deal? Who? Who?" They're based in Ohio, of all god-forsaken places, and we all know how I feel about that cabbage-scented, buckeye-harboring state. I have no emotional attachment to the Reds or to anyone who plays for them.
Nineteen seasons. On one team. That's an era, that is. How long was Pedro with us? DLowe? Nomah? A pretty damn long time by the standards of baseball today. Jason Varitek, at the end of his contract, will have been with the Red Sox for 12 seasons, and I doubt that, as a catcher, he'll be able to stay on any longer. Derek Jeter is entering his 11th season with the New York Yankees. Will he be around for 19? Possibly, but maybe not. Nineteen is a long, long time. And to have an opportunity to keep playing, to know that you probably still had a couple of good seasons left in you, to know that there were other teams ready and willing to give you a starting job... to turn all that down, because you made your career in one place and couldn't imagine taking your game elsewhere.
Well. That's something. Don't we kind of wish Emmitt Smith had retired in 2002? Wouldn't it have been better to see him retire a Cowboy to the end (regardless of how you feel about the Cowboys, *cough*Mer*cough*), not a throwaway Cardinal for a couple of seasons? We know Jerry Rice still has some gas in his tank, but mightn't it have been better to see him hang up a final jersey of red and gold?
So there's something to be said for Barry Larkin choosing to go out as he is, born in Cincy, playing in Cincy, ending in Cincy. Sort of. It's not like he's dropping out of baseball, he's going to be a part of the Washington Nationals front office now, but since that front office is currently being run by a former Reds GM and with two other former Reds currently acting as special assistants it's still kind of like Larkin is going home.
Ah, see, I say all that crap, and we all know the real reason I care about Barry Larkin retiring is that he played for the good ol' Michigan Wolverines back in the '80s. In 1985, the year I began the more-or-less regular journey that would ultimately lead to the land of Maize and Blue, Larkin was chosen as the American Baseball Coaches Association's player of the year, a Baseball America All-American, and a Sporting News All-American. The Wolverines won the Big 10 Championship when he was with the team in 1984.
Nineteen seasons with the Cincinnati Reds? Whatever, man, the guy was great for the U of M. Now that is something to be proud of.
morning edit: Ha ha, note to self, do not write that late at night when you are that tired, it makes you wax lyrical in a hysterically bad way. Oh man. Anyways, Pro Bowl rundown probably tomorrow, because god forbid I should leave this thing alone for more than a couple days at a time.