(Updated Sept. 25, 2016)
Barry Larkin played shortstop with distinction for the Reds from 1986-2004, but for most of the first half of his career he was overshadowed by the Cardinals’ Ozzie Smith.
In a classy twist, Smith witnessed and cheered Larkin’s greatest individual feat on a baseball field.
Smith won the Gold Glove Award among National League shortstops in each of Larkin’s first seven seasons in the major leagues, including 1990, when Larkin helped lead Cincinnati to its most recent World Series championship.
Larkin didn’t win the first of his three Gold Glove awards until 1994, the year Smith turned 40. Smith, who won the Gold Glove Award 13 times, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.
In 2012, it was Larkin’s turn.
Larkin, 1995 winner of the NL MVP Award, had 2,340 hits and a .295 career batting average.
Larkin had several memorable performances against the Cardinals, including a pinch-hit grand slam off reliever Steve Kline in St. Louis’ 11-10 victory over the Reds on July 28, 2004, at Cincinnati. Boxscore
Larkin’s greatest moment against the Cardinals occurred in the first game of a Sunday afternoon doubleheader on Sept. 22, 1996, at Cincinnati.
Two days earlier, before the opener of the series, the Reds, with Larkin participating in the ceremonies, honored Smith, who had declared he would retire after the season. Now, Smith had a chance to honor Larkin.
In the fifth inning, with St. Louis ahead 3-1, Larkin launched a homer, his 30th of the season, over the left-field wall against starter Donovan Osborne. With that solo shot, Larkin became the first shortstop in major-league history to achieve 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season. (He had 36 steals at the time).
As he rounded first base, Larkin thrust both fists in the air in jubilation. Smith, positioned at shortstop for the Cardinals, hollered his congratulations as Larkin trotted past him.
Asked afterward to assess Larkin’s feat, Smith told the Associated Press, “It gives him his own spot in history. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Larkin became the 17th player in big-league history to achieve 30 homers and 30 steals in a season. Fifteen were outfielders and the other, Howard Johnson of the Mets, was a third baseman.
Larkin finished the 1996 season with 33 homers and 36 steals. He would achieve the steals standard again (with 30 in 1999, his fifth season of 30 or more steals), but he never came close to matching 30 homers (in a 19-year big-league career, his next-best home run season was 20 in 1991).
Previously: Ken Boyer belongs in Hall of Fame