He has won a World Series and a National League Most Valuable Player award. He is a 12-time All-Star whose baseball career reached its pinnacle January 9 with a berth in the Hall of Fame.
He has visited South Korea and Brazil as an envoy for the State Department and Major League Baseball. He has coached in China.
Yet Barry Larkin (’10) says his proudest accomplishment just might be returning to the University of Michigan 25 years after leaving campus and earning his bachelor’s degree in communications in 2010.
“It’s humongous to say I’m a Michigan grad,” Larkin said in an interview just one day before his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I’m really proud of it. I know there have been some pretty successful athletes to go back to college . It’s not easy. It takes a lot of time. Baseball is very time consuming.’’
Indeed, baseball had been the central part of Larkin’s career once he decided to stop being a two-sport athlete. A graduate of longtime powerhouse Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Larkin came to Michigan on a football scholarship in 1982, planning to play defensive back for Bo Schembechler.
But after red-shirting in football and having an outstanding freshman season in baseball, Larkin decided to stick with one sport.
“I realized I might be able to do something [big] if I just did one sport,” Larkin said. “When I just played baseball I felt so much better. When I told Bo I was not going to play football at the University of Michigan, he almost came across the desk and strangled me.”
Barry Larkin holds a baseball clinic at a middle school gym in Seoul in February, 2011. The sports envoy traveled across South Korea to meet youth baseball players and local students to hold discussions with non-governmental and minority groups.
© JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Larkin’s prowess as Michigan’s shortstop (two first-team All-American selections) led to his being a first-round draft choice by his hometown Cincinnati Reds after his junior year in 1985.
But he knew he wasn’t done with college. Both his parents were college graduates as were his siblings. And he had promised his grandmother he would get his degree.
“When I got drafted out of high school [in the second round] I talked with my grandma,” Larkin said. “I told her I would get an education whether I signed or not. I told her the same thing when I was drafted out of Michigan.’’
Larkin retains fond memories of Ann Arbor.
“Michigan was a great place for me to mature as a person and establish some really great relationships. I had some great mentors. Bo was a big influence. So was Jon Falk who is still the equipment manager there.”
Larkin befriended both football and baseball players, including his first-year roommate at West Quad, Casey Close, who became Michigan’s top hitter in 1986 and then became Larkin’s agent.
As for academics, Larkin said communications was appealing because of what he called “the general nature of the field” and because “I loved the announcing part of sports.”
Michigan also provided an opportunity for Larkin to improve his Spanish.
“Growing up in Cincinnati, the two guys I idolized were Tony Perez and [shortstop] Davey Concepcion of the Big Red Machine,” Larkin said. “Both were Spanish speaking. I went to Michigan with the determination to get a good solid background in the ability to speak Spanish. My success in baseball was helped by my ability to communicate to anyone in the clubhouse.”
Larkin retired from baseball in 2004 but the return to Michigan to earn his final nine credits proved elusive. He worked for a time with the Washington Nationals and then joined the fledgling MLB Network. Finally, in the 2009-10 academic year he found “a little time.”
Larkin completed much of his degree work on the Internet but was able to get back to campus and work with staff in the academic office.
“I took a couple of computer information systems courses and got myself up to speed on what’s happening out there,” Larkin said.
The 1984 University of Michigan Baseball team. Larkin is number 16, fourth from left in the middle row.
Bentley Historical Library
In 2010, at 46, Barry Larkin became a Michigan graduate, the same weekend that his No. 16 was retired by the Michigan baseball team.
“I may even be more proud of my degree than my other honors,” Larkin said 24 hours before he would join baseball’s immortals in Cooperstown, New York. “It was a goal [to graduate] and anytime you set that kind of goal for yourself and you accomplish it, you think ‘Wow.’”
Larkin, who has worked for ESPN since 2011, lives in Orlando, Florida, with his wife, Lisa, their two daughters Brielle D'Shea (21) and Cymber (16), and son, Shane (19).
Although his grandmother died in the early 2000s and could not see him fulfill his pledge, Larkin is glad to call himself a Michigan graduate.
“That Block M carries recognition everywhere I go,” he said. “Even in Beijing.”