From 1986 to 2004, a fantastic shortstop showed he knew how to gracefully defend the great uniform of the Cincinnati Reds, one of MLB’s best teams in the seventies and eighties: Barry Larkin was his name.
Speedy, athletic, and solid in nearly all facets of the game, Larkin put together an excellent career, one that made him one of the best players at his position.
Larkin’s career was impressive form just about any angle.
Is he the greatest shortstop in the history of the league?
The answer is no, although he was an authentic star back in the day.
He Was Incredibly Good, But Not The Best
Larkin hit .295/.371/.444 with 198 home runs, 1,329 runs scored, 960 RBI, and 379 stolen bases.
He was an above-average hitter, evidenced by his solid .815 OPS.
Larkin was also a very, very good fielder: however, since part of his prime was shared with Ozzie Smith (the greatest defensive shortstop of all time) he “only” won three Gold Gloves, between 1994 and 1996.
— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) February 8, 2022
The Reds’ star was also an on-base threat: he stole as many as 51 bases in a single season, in 1995.
That year, he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award, after hitting .319/.394/.492 with 15 homers, 98 runs, and 66 RBI, plus the 51 thefts.
A year later, he would become the first shortstop with a 30-30 season: he was a real dual threat.
— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) February 7, 2022
Larkin went to the All-Star Game 12 times (1988–1991, 1993–1997, 1999, 2000, 2004), and lifted the World Series trophy in 1990.
Besides the already mentioned MVP and Gold Glove awards, he won the Silver Slugger nine times (1988–1992, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999).
The Reds retired his number 11, and since 2012, he is a member of the Hall of Fame.
He accumulated 67 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is a way to measure how much a player contributed to his team compared to a replacement-level player.
WAR considers offense, defense, baserunning, and virtually every contribution.
Among MLB shortstops in history, his WAR output ranks 10th.
That’s why he can’t be considered the best of all time: statistically, a handful of shortstop were just better.
Other Shortstops Had Better Careers
Honus Wagner, for example, had 138.1 WAR, leading the standings.
Alex Rodriguez played a lot of shortstop during his early years, and was significantly better than Larkin.
Cal Ripken Jr. accumulated 92.5 WAR, much more than Larkin, and also has a bigger place in baseball because of his record for consecutive games played.
Derek Jeter had 73.1 WAR, and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, with five World Series rings and lots of postseason records.
Larkin was considerably better at hitting than Smith, but the latter was just superior defensively.
In short, Larking was a fantastic MLB shortstop, a true star in a league in which that particular word is often misused.
He is, deservingly, a Hall of Famer if we consider his statistical output and what he means to the game.
But he is not the best shortstop ever: Wagner, Jeter, Ripken, and Smith are all better than him, and some other lesser known players at the position also have a case to be regarded as better than Larkin.