COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Barry Larkin lost it before he even started. Vicki Santo never wavered as she honored her late husband, Ron.
Baseball’s highest honor always seems to leave a special impression on those involved.
Larkin, the former star shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, and Ron Santo, a standout third baseman for the Chicago Cubs and later a beloved broadcaster for the team, were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Sunday.
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Larkin was a two-sport star at Moeller High School and thought he might become a pro football player after accepting a scholarship to play college football at Michigan for Bo Schembechler. That changed in a hurry.
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“He (Schembechler) redshirted me my freshman year and told me that he was going to allow me just to play baseball,” Larkin said. “Occasionally, I’d call him while I was playing in the big leagues and told him that was the best decision he made as a football coach. He didn’t like that too much.”
Drafted No. 4 overall by the Reds in 1985, despite playing just 41 games his first year Larkin finished seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1986.
Two years later, Larkin was an All-Star. And with a host of older players to guide him — Eric Davis, Ron Oester, Buddy Bell, player-manager Pete Rose, slugger Tony Perez, and even star shortstop Dave Concepcion, the man he would replace — Larkin’s major league career quickly took off.
“I wouldn’t be in the big leagues if it weren’t for Pete,” Larkin said, eliciting a stirring applause from the fans, two of whom were holding a placard inscribed with “Cincinnati’s hometown heroes, Larkin and Rose.”
“And Dave Concepcion, understanding that I was gunning for his job, understanding that I was from Cincinnati, he spent countless hours with me preparing me for the game,” Larkin said. “I idolized Davey Concepcion as a kid. Thank you, my idol.”
Santo, a Seattle native and 1958 graduate of Franklin High School, died Dec. 3, 2010, at the age of 70. His long battle with Type 1 diabetes cost him both legs below the knees, but he ultimately died of complications from bladder cancer.
A member of the Cubs organization for the better part of five decades as a player (1960-74) and then broadcaster (1990-2010), Santo was selected by the Veterans Committee in December.
“It just feels right, a perfect ending to a remarkable journey,” Vicki Santo said. “Ron left an awful hole for many of us today. This is not a sad day. This is a great day. I’m certain that Ronnie is celebrating right now.”
In 15 major league seasons, all but one with the Cubs, Santo compiled a .277 batting average, had 2,254 hits, 1,331 RBI and 365 doubles in 2,243 games. He also was a tireless fundraiser for juvenile diabetes, raising more than $65 million.