Larkin humbled by Hall of Fame weekend
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- On Sunday night, just after the members only dinner for the Hall of Famers had ended, Barry Larkin walked across the lobby of the famous Otesaga Resort Hotel and held up his right hand, sporting a sparkling new ring."Now I really feel like I've made it," said Larkin, the Reds shortstop who earlier in the day had been officially inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with the late, great Cubs third baseman Ron Santo. Standing nearby was Frank Robinson and Larkin smiled as he recalled what the outfielder, whose Hall of Fame career also began with the Reds, had so recently told him.
"Frank said that until you get your ring we can still change our minds," said Larkin, a beatific look of splendor on his face from the entire experience.That, of course, didn't happen. These are the little vignettes that occur behind the scenes as the annual Hall of Fame induction weekend winds down. Earlier in the evening, deep in the recesses of the most hallowed of the rooms in the museum on Main Street, officials strode out with long screwdrivers to hang the plaques honoring Larkin and Santo for all eternity. Under the gold letters marked 2012, Larkin's plaque was affixed on the wooden mount that bore his name. He was at the dinner and not in attendance for the joyous moment. But the adult Santo kids, accompanied by a group of friends, were there in all their glory. Ron Jr., Jeff and Linda, along with her own children -- Sam, 13, and Spencer, seven -- all stood close by as long screws on each corner were drilled in, to place the plaque just below Larkin's. One by one Santo's only surviving grandchildren turned the gold, decorative knobs above the screw heads in place to finish the job. "That was a wonderful and fitting moment," Linda said. Larkin and his family visited the plaque room on Monday morning to view the finished product. Of course, Larkin was presented with his plaque, as Commissioner Bud Selig read the inscription, before his acceptance speech during the ceremonies behind the Clark Sports Center on Sunday. But that's nothing like viewing it on the wall where it will always remain. "It was a little touching when I went over and saw it up there," Larkin said on Monday morning. "The other day I went over and just saw the place where it was going to be. Now, I actually saw it up there. It was pretty impressive." In his last official act of the weekend on Monday, Larkin took part in a fairly impromptu panel discussion entitled "Voices of the Game" in front of a crowd of several hundred inside the Clark Sports Center. On the panel were fellow Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Billy Williams. The trio joked and laughed about their experiences as players and their own interpersonal relationships. Williams was Santo's teammate on those Cubs teams of the 1960s and early '70s. Larkin played with Perez in 1986 as the shortstop began his 19-year career, just as Perez finished his in Cincinnati. Williams, reflecting on the poignant speech Santo's widow Vicki gave on Sunday, punctuated the point that none of the Cubs knew for years that Santo was playing as a functioning diabetic. Medicine was so archaic in the 1960s that Santo went by feel. He didn't have access to the instantaneous blood meters of today. If he felt faint or light-headed Santo would gobble a candy bar or gulp a glass of orange juice to raise his blood sugar. Santo used to leave candy bars in the dugout for just that purpose. His teammates didn't know they were for Santo because Santo hadn't told them. "We thought the candy bars were for all of us," Williams said. "Late in the game, Ronnie would come looking for one, but they'd all be gone because we had eaten them." Perez was Larkin's mentor and when the then lighter-hitting shortstop stepped away from the cage Perez looked at his bat and quipped, "can I read that?" Confused, Larkin asked Perez what he was talking about. Perez was referring to "that newspaper you're hitting with," Perez said, adding that there was no sound of wood striking the pitched ball. "I think it was a wet newspaper," Larkin joked. No one knew it at the time, but the two were destined to have their plaques hang in the same room with 205 other players honored in Cooperstown. Baseball is a fraternity, Larkin concluded. And he enjoyed the hazing of being a rookie in baseball's most elite fraternity. "The weekend was amazing. The Hall of Fame people were gracious hosts," Larkin said, summing it all up on his way out the door after the panel discussion. "It was just a wonderful, incredible experience. It was a one-time shot. We did it big. We had a nice time doing it. It was very inspirational and very humbling experience."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.