• Image about Barry Larkin
Prince Fielder, in his first season with the Detroit Tigers after seven seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Albert Pujols, who left St. Louis for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after 11 seasons with the -Cardinals, have changed the power structures in the AL Central and the AL West, respectively.
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The 2012 baseball season will be a win-win for the American League and its two new deep-pocketed first basemen, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin predicts.

Barry Larkin had a pretty OK winter, even by the standards of superstar athletes who played their entire career for one team, won a World Series ring and earned a few bucks in the process. On Jan. 9, as he prepared for a trip to New York City with his teenage daughter, an aspiring singer, he received the call that had eluded him the two previous years, the one informing him that he had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. What prompted the notoriously finicky electorate to finally decree Larkin a worthy candidate in his third year on the ballot is a question for another story.

Immediately the phone started ringing, but Larkin first sat down for interviews with ESPN (his current employer) and the MLB Network (his previous one). After a spell, his daughter tried to get his attention. “She comes up and says, ‘Dad, this one guy keeps calling.’ I say, ‘OK, tell me who it is,’ and she says, ‘Some guy named Ben or Buzz.’ Then I realize it’s a 414 area code, and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, sweetheart, is this guy’s name Bud?’ ” And so it was that Larkin received congratulations from MLB Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig.

That tale suggests that Larkin is a tough guy to track down (and comes armed with an entourage not particularly adept at relaying messages), but nothing could be further from the truth. In 19 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Larkin charmed fans with his everydude geniality, opponents with his tenacity and proverbial respect for the game, and stat-heads with his on-base percentage (a .371 career mark, to accompany his lifetime .295 batting average, 198 home runs and 960 runs batted in). By any rational measure, he ranks among the top 10 shortstops ever to play the game.