CINCINNATI -- One of the debates facing many new Hall of Famers, especially in the contemporary era, is over which cap the player will be wearing on the plaque that hangs in Cooperstown.
Forget that question when it comes to 2012 Hall of Fame electee Barry Larkin. The Cincinnati native spent all of his 19 seasons playing for his hometown Reds. He is only the 48th player out of 297 Hall of Fame members to spend his whole career with one team.
"Throughout his entire life, both on and off the field, Barry has represented himself and our city with the class and professionalism consistent with the ideals of the Reds, Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown," said Reds CEO Bob Castellini in a statement. "He continues to be one of our game's greatest ambassadors. We are very proud that his accomplishments have been validated at the highest level by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. We look forward to the induction ceremonies in July."
Regardless of their role, or their era, members of the Reds family throughout the country were vocal with their salutes to one of the franchise's greatest players.
"It certainly is a deserving honor for the Cincinnati native and Reds shortstop," said 1989 inductee Johnny Bench, who also spent his whole career with the Reds. "Barry distinguished himself as a tremendous leader and a dominating player. ... I'm very happy for his family and look forward to being with him in July on the stage in Cooperstown. Congratulations to a class act, on and off the field."
Larkin, the only player to receive election this year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, was named to 86.4 percent of the ballots, earning 495 out of a possible 573 votes. Players need to be on a minimum of 75 percent of the ballots cast to be enshrined.
Along with Golden Era Committee electee Ron Santo, Larkin will be inducted on July 22 in Cooperstown.
From 1986-2004, Larkin was a .295 hitter with 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits, a .371 on-base percentage and 379 stolen bases. He was also a 12-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, a nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a member of the 1990 World Series championship team and the 1995 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner.
"Barry Larkin's election to the Baseball Hall Of Fame comes at a time when statistics are as important as the eye test, and Barry passes both tests," said Reds great Joe Morgan, who was inducted into the Hall in 1990. "When you watched him play, you knew he was a special player."
There are now 11 Reds elected to the Hall of Fame -- Bench, Morgan, Sparky Anderson, Warren Giles, Ernie Lombardi, Bill McKechnie, Bid McPhee, Tony Perez, Eppa Rixey and Edd Roush.
"I'm very happy Barry got in," said Perez, who played with Larkin in 1986 and entered the Hall in 2000. "Now he's with us, another guy in the family. I've seen him play and do great things for the Cincinnati Reds organization and the team. He was a great player, very deserving to belong in the Hall of Fame."
Larkin was universally considered a great teammate, clubhouse leader and character builder -- traits that were formally confirmed when he was named captain of the Reds in 1997.
"I congratulate Barry on a truly remarkable career," said Lou Piniella, the manager of the 1990 World Series championship club. "He was very professional, very dedicated, very committed to winning and a great leader. An outstanding individual both on and off the field, Barry remains one of my favorite players I ever managed."
"Barry was the one guy you could rely on getting the job done," said former Reds pitcher Tom Browning, a teammate of Larkin's from 1986-94. "Offensively, he could hit first, second or third as well as anybody in the game. Defensively, he was the best during his time, but often was overshadowed by Ozzie Smith. As good as he was as a player, he was a better teammate."
Former Reds outfielder Eric Davis was standing by for an MLB Network interview and was caught on camera giving a celebratory fist pump when hearing the news that Larkin was elected to the Hall. Larkin credited Davis during the interview with mentoring him early on his career. Davis felt Larkin -- his teammate from 1986-91 and again in '96 -- deserved entry to the Hall on his first year of eligibility, rather than the third.
"There were a lot of things he brought to the table," Davis said. "Not just the numbers, but his intangibles, his ability to understand the game -- he was probably one of the smartest players that I ever played with or against. He had the ability to do whatever was necessary. Barry could have batted leadoff. He could have batted second, hit third -- anything you needed him to do on a baseball field, Barry Larkin could do it."
"Barry Larkin was, hands down, the greatest pure athlete I ever played with," said former first baseman Sean Casey, a teammate from 1998-2004. "He was also my mentor and a great friend. I can't tell you how many times early in my career Lark would pull me aside and try to explain a situation to me to make me a better player. He was a class act all the way in everything he did. He's a Hall of Fame shortstop, and I can say it because I saw it firsthand for seven years. I'm so grateful I got a chance to play with and learn from one of the greatest shortstops ever."
Larkin is the first player in an era after the Big Red Machine to gain election to Cooperstown -- and he could be the last for quite a while. His career not only left a mark on those he played with and against, but for the generation that followed his own. Current Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, a three-time NL Gold Glove winner, was a shortstop growing up. He frequently says that the player he most admired was Larkin.
"Barry was my idol, and if it weren't for him I wouldn't be pursuing my dream and playing baseball right now," Phillips said. "Congratulations to him, the Reds and his hometown of Cincinnati. Getting elected to the Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor."