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Beating the Odds

The First Men to See Barry Larkin

Getting drafted by a pro team guarantees nothing. History is filled with people who are picked high but who never live up to their potential. No one can ever say that about Barry Larkin. If anything, he went beyond expectations. Taken as the fourth overall pick in the 1985 draft, Larkin has landed in the Hall of Fame.

“He was an exceptional player,” said Mike Cameron, Larkin’s coach at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, quoted on the Reds’ blog. “I knew he would end up playing in the major leagues.”

No matter how good a player looks in high school, however, you never know what he will become. The art of projecting — trying to imagine how good a player will be down the road — is one of the toughest jobs for a talent evaluator. That fact is evident in the three players drafted ahead of Larkin in 1985.  B.J. Surhoff of the Milwaukee Brewers, Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants and Bobby Witt of the Texas Rangers all enjoyed some success in the big leagues, but none was even close to being a Hall of Famer.

In Larkin’s case, the job of projecting belonged to Gene Bennett, the Cincinnati Reds scout who recommended and signed Larkin.

“My part-time scout, Harry Steinride, and I watched Barry play a lot,” Bennett said. “We drafted him after his senior year at Moeller High School, but he and his family made the decision that he would attend the University of Michigan. We continued to follow him closely, got to know his parents very well and signed him after he became eligible again. I have always had the greatest respect for Barry and his family. I told his mother that she was my best scout.”

Often players begin to wash out the first time they face pro competition and find themselves surrounded by so much talent. They can either get intimidated by the competition or get inspired by it. Jack Lind, Larkin’s first pro manager, recalls what he saw.

“He came to Double-A in Vermont in the mid-1985 and made that adjustment to pro ball from major college baseball,” Lind said. “The following season in Triple-A, he showed more improvement in one season than many thought possible, garnering American Association Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. Both were well deserved. Then he was promoted to the Reds, never to look back.”

Now Larkin sits in Cooperstown, an honor so far denied to Jack Morris, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez, among others.

“Barry had physical skills far superior to the average high school athlete, not only in baseball, but football as well,” Moeller Coach Cameron said. “He would make plays in the field that left you shaking your head and saying, ‘How did he do that?’”

According to former teammate Ken Griffey Jr., himself headed for the Hall of Fame, Larkin did more than excel on the field. He actually changed the course of the sport.

“He had a combination of speed and power that changed the way teams started drafting shortstops,” Griffey said. “As the first 30/30 (30 home run and 30 stolen bases in the same season) shortstop, Barry paved the way for guys like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.”

No way the first men to see Larkin projected all that!


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