“Nobody comes to the University of Michigan to play baseball.” That’s how Bo Schembechler used to tease Barry Larkin. In January Larkin became the first Wolverine since the Tigers’ Charlie Gehringer, class of 1923, to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Larkin landed in Ann Arbor in 1982 to play defensive back for Bo, who was still smarting that Larkin’s older brother, Mike, turned him down for Notre Dame. When Bo red-shirted Barry as a freshman, Larkin turned to his second-favorite sport and never revisited the gridiron. Larkin, who credits U-M coach Bud Middaugh with teaching him “the mental part of the game,” started out playing center field for the Wolverines, helping them to appearances in the College World Series in 1983 and 1984. Larkin wasn’t even the biggest star on that Wolverines nine: teammate Casey Close, U-M’s all-time home run leader, ended up as Larkin’s agent, and Hal Morris and Chris Sabo later played alongside Larkin on his hometown Cincinnati Reds. Stat guru Bill James ranks Larkin as the sixth-best shortstop in major league history–which might be counted as Bo’s greatest handoff ever.
Since the best prospects now go to baseball-powerhouse schools in the South and West, it’s a real long shot that any other Wolverine will ever enter Cooperstown–not even onetime Pioneer High star Zach Putnam, who debuted last season as a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.