Though he's overshadowed by the tragically flawed heroism of a fellow Cincinnati native, there's very little about Barry Larkin that isn't synonymous with Cincinnati and baseball. Unlike Rose, Larkin not only grew up in the Queen City, but spent his entire professional career with the Reds. In fact, the farthest away he managed to stray between his time at Moeller High School and his 20 year engagement with the franchise was a short drive from the Ohio border at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Larkin was a World Series winner, an MVP, an All Star, a Gold Glover and a Roberto Clemente winner in Cincinnati. He served as a bridge between the remnants of the Big Red Machine, the Wire to Wire Reds and a new stadium - itself a bridge to the past with great, but unrealized expectations. He took the field at the close of the 1998 season as part of an unprecedented "all Larkin and Boone sibling" infield. He refused to be traded to New York in 2000.
Larkin may not have achieved legendary status, whether for lack of quotability, controversy or association with the dynasty of the 1970s. But he embodies the characteristics we say that we value in citizen-athletes, beyond prolonged excellence. He stayed with his hometown team in the era of free agency, steering clear of the pitfalls of outsized egoism and prevailing controversies of the eras (were there 2? 3?) in which he played. He was a consummately well-rounded, toolsy player who also did the things, like take walks, that many players who are celebrated as good fielders or "lead off men" often did not. He was recognized for his philanthropy. He had a good, punchy name for sports.
Those outside the 275 beltway might regard Larkin's induction to the Hall of Fame as somewhere just south of Roberto Alomar in note worthiness. "Bernie Larkin? He was around for a while, so Hall of Fame? OK, sure." Relating the meaning of Barry Larkin to a baseball fan who may not have paid attention to the Reds over the last three decades is less visceral than explaining what the outsider status and hard nosed play of Pete Rose says about the city. But I do know that each time I attended a Reds game, Barry Larkin was the one player - constant through the years - that both made me think "wow, that's really him down there" while somehow seeming completely at home and natural, not like an otherworldly celebrity. Like an old friend. (But not in a weird way. I know we're not actually friends.)
At Baseball Projection, Larkin ranks as the 59th best position player of all time in career WAR. He's fourth or fifth all time in runs created above position, depending on how you count A-Rod. He's eighth in Bill James' win shares among shortstops. The BBWA has belatedly recognized him for what both enlightened statistics and eye witness accounts have known for some time.
Congratulations, Barry. It's time to pick out a good street to re-name.