Larkin Sees RED But Signs A Three Year Contract Extention

By Rod Coffee
Updated: February 22, 2008

Barry Larkin

Barry Larkin

CINCINNATI, OHIO – With all due respect to the NFL’s all-time rushing leader, Walter Payton, there is another all-star athlete whom the likes of Pete Rose, Eric Davis and Dave Parker used to call “Sweetness.” The athlete’s effortless athleticism and easygoing demeanor earned the respect of everyone in his path and drew the comparison to Payton.

That athlete is Barry Larkin.

Rarely, for the sake of a sports column, do I share notes from a personal friendship with an athlete. But after the past few months of money motivated propaganda, I thought I would fill Black readers in on some inside stuff on the man also known as “B-Lark” Before Barry came on the shortstop scene, Ozzie Smith (whom he respects like crazy) was theprototype at the position. A light-hitting athletic fielder, Barry introduced the combination of power, speed and athleticism. With all due respect to Alan Trammell and Cal Ripken, it was Larkin who laid the framework for future stars, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriquez. Athletes who happen to play baseball. And guys who paid attention to image as well as batting average.

Larkin was an all-American cornerback at the fabled Cincinnati Moeller High School. Bo Schembechler begged him to play for the Wolverines while Barry was busy earning all-American honors as a superstar shortstop at the University of Michigan.

B-Lark always tells the story of how Bo would try and badger him into joining the guys on the gridiron by saying ” Hey Lark, you need to play football, you’ll never make it in the big leagues. You can’t even hit MY curve ball.” Lark always laughs at how wrong the legendary coach was, but appreciated his efforts to challenge his competitive spirit.

When you watch Barry Larkin on TV you are watching a person who is exactly what he seems to be. Barry is the most disciplined person I have ever met. When he decides something will be done, it will be done.

See a new three-year contract extension for 27 million agreed upon after demanding the Reds do the right thing and pay him his money.

He also refuses to allow negativity play a part in his life. When Larkin was in his second year with the Reds he was coming off the injured list and in stiff competition with Kurt Stillwell.

As a friend, I tried to boost his spirits by saying, “Man you should be playing ahead of that guy.” He told me, “No he’s a good player, and I’m coming off the injured list. I’ll get mine — and everything will work out.” Larkin taught me to just deal with what you can control.

I’ve always maintained that without baseball Barry would still earn money in the top 10 percent of the population. I base that on the habits of successful people. He is a tireless worker, a positive person who sets goals and, most of all, he is a good person. No, that is not a guarantee of success, but it’s an extra year, so Dave Concepicion could achieve his goal of 20 years in the big leagues. The Reds didn’t get off to a good start.

Other B-Lark notes: This guy actually offered to stay in the minors. They brought Barry up anyway, forcing the legend for the Big Red Machine to retire. Barry thought that was pretty uncool, given the service his shortstop predecessor had given for two decades.

And ,whatever you do, don’t believe the money-hungry crap that’s been tossed your way lately. This is a guy who, when in 1991 we talked about the possibility of a strike, told me, “Well I’ve put half my money away ($150,000) so I’ll be okay. I mean, come on, I’m 25-years-old, and I make six figures which is more money than 90-percent of the people in Cinci, It’s not like I’m gonna go hungry. I’m realistic about this stuff. We make a lot of money.”

This is a guy who purposely passed up national endorsement opportunities that would have reaped big dollars, so he could visit malls in major league cities, like Houston and Montreal, without being recognized by non-baseball fans. And oh yeah, he always added. “It’s not like I need more money.”

This is a guy who took less than market value (much to the dismay of the players union) after being named MVP. This is a guy who, despite making millions during the past 15 years, hasn’t totaled the net worth of many with less ability and class.

Believe me when I tell you, this contract dispute is not about money, it’s about respect. It’s about giving the Reds an opportunity to step-up and do the right thing and take care of one of their own. I think Barry just wanted the Reds to go beyond the financial call of duty on this contract despite his age (36) because he has gone beyond the call of duty for them.

We’re talking about a career 300 hitter, born and raised in “The Natti” who helped bring a World Championship to the Queen City 10-years ago, and who had been a charitable contributor to a city that had the good fortune call him a resident and employee. We’re talking about a guy who dealt with Marge Schott with dignity in the face of open racism. We’re talking about a guy who taught himself Spanish and forged a bridge between the Latin players and other guys in the locker room.

Barry has always told me he was wary of the cruel business side of baseball, and now it looks like he’s seeing it first hand. He saw it with Concepcion. He saw it with Eric Davis.

He is an old school guy who was raised with old school values, like: work hard…be a good guy…and good things will happen. We know that may be true in life (well, maybe not) but it seems certain not to be the case in baseball. Use players till you’re done with them and kick em out the door. And, oh yeah, hope they wear your logo cap when they’re inducted into the Hall-of-Fame.

I’m sorry if this column seems a little too personal or biased (I’m not really sorry…it’s my job), but the Larkin story hits home in more ways than one. I know life is not fair, but it doesn’t have to be foul either.

This is one time where baseball mistreated a guy called “Sweetness” and, once again, displayed the bitterness and business of professional sports.

But in the end, give the Reds a little credit for stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and keeping a player who exudes what athletes should be all about.