• Image about Barry Larkin
Barry Larkin
John Atashian/ESPN

But now that the post-election buzz has started to fade — “I don’t know if it will ever leave completely,” he says — Larkin has turned his attention to his after-career as a baseball pundit and, specifically, to a plot-packed 2012 season. Atop his list: the departure of two of the National League’s best first basemen, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, to the American League for contracts worth more than $200 million each.

“The business side [of baseball] isn’t always pretty and pure,” Larkin says. When the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Pujols, he adds, “Everything got better. He’s a division-changer, just like Prince is a division-changer for the [Detroit] Tigers.”

For the Angels to reclaim the AL West’s top spot, which they held for much of the last decade, they have to lap the Texas Rangers, the two-time World Series bridesmaids who imported a big gun of their own in Japanese pitching ace Yu Darvish. The question for Larkin isn’t whether Texas has the talent but rather how the team will respond after that calamitous Game 6 of the 2011 fall classic, when the Rangers were one out away from winning the World Series. Twice.
“If you’re the Rangers, you look at the fact that you’ve been close,” Larkin says. “The front office is making moves to make you better and you have to feel good about that. … I think [Darvish] will be very successful.”

The Rangers need only take a quick glimpse at the league’s gold-star franchises to see how well off they are. Following a late-September collapse and the flurry of finger-pointing that followed, the Boston Red Sox parted ways with wonder-boy general manager Theo Epstein and longtime skipper Terry Francona. Despite the turmoil, Larkin downplays the possibility of any carry-over, noting that in a down season the team still won 90 games. He expects a return to full health from third baseman/“blue-collar workman” Kevin Youkilis and for new manager Bobby Valentine — one of Larkin’s former ESPN co-workers — to ease into the role of “commander in chief.”

“Everyone will know his role,” Larkin says. “Bobby is a strong personality and he’ll protect his players.”