(Check out our other player card posts here.)
Quick now … name one fascinating stat or fact about Barry Larkin and his Hall of Fame baseball career.
Go ahead. We’ll wait.
Here, let me help out …
Larkin won a string of Gold Gloves the likes of which we may never see again, and … what’s that you say? That was Ozzie Smith? Oh, right. Larkin won just two Gold Gloves? Hmmm.
Larkin holds Cincinnati Reds career records for … well … let’s see … for Power-Speed # (whatever that is). And it’s not even close.
Oh, and …
Larkin won the NL MVP while playing in only 131 games during the strike-shortened 1995 season.
See, it’s enthralling stuff. Right?
Truth is, Larkin hardly ever was considered one of the very best players in the game during his 19-year career with the Reds, but he was a superstar nearly every season. Just usually not the superstar.
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Now, as a corollary, name one iconic Barry Larkin baseball card. You know, the type of card that drove the hobby for weeks or months on end. The kind that engendered visions of free college education and lucrative retirements for little boys and middle-aged men across the land.
Need some help again?
Alright. How about …
That card the world awaited in 1986 Donruss The Rookies? We pined all summer to get a glimpse of Larkin’s first card, and when it came out, boy, howdy were we … oops. Sorry. That was Wally Joyner. Larkin didn’t even make it into The Rookies lineup.
Nevermind, though, because …
Larkin had that 1987 Donruss Rated Rookie card that caught fire when Larkin smashed his way through that summer of ’87, threatening all sorts of rookie records. Except that was Mark McGwire, not Larkin. Barry did have a good-looking Donruss rookie card that year, but it wasn’t “Rated” and it never climbed to the top of hobby hot lists.
There is this, though …
Larkin may have the best rookie card in the 1987 Fleer set, having surpassed other guys like Kevin Mitchell and Will Clark through the years. And others, like Barry Bonds and Joyner had appeared in the 1986 Fleer Update set beforehand.
So there is that.
And, while it took the Larkin rookie card train awhile to get going, he did appear on pretty much the full complement of RCs in 1987:
- Fleer Glossy
- Topps Tiffany
- Toys R Us
Beyond all that cardboard splendor, though, Larkin was able to leverage his hometown to land a rookie card that other players could only dream about calling their own.
That’s because, in 1987, Cincinnati-based meat packer Kahn’s decided to issue a set of the local heroes, reentering the baseball card market for the first time since their quirky sets of the 1950s and 1960s.
Unlike those weiner-backing pasteboards of years gone by, the 1987 cards were handed out as a 26-piece set to fans who attended the August 2 home game against the San Francisco Giants at Riverfront Stadium.
All the big names from the second-place Reds team were included:
And Barry Larkin.
Instead being meat-package-backing size, the cards measure the standard 2 1/2″-by-3 1/2″ and feature an attractive overall design. Each player photo is an action shot from what appears to be a real Reds game, and the pic is surrounded by a white inner borer that features the player name, number, and position alongside a Reds logo (complete with Mr. Red).
The whole thing is surrounded by a Reds red border that brands the cards instantly as a Cincinnati team issue.
Card backs feature player info and stats, along with a black-and-white head shot plus a red Kahn’s logo.
Again, in total these are pretty good looking cards.
The problem lies with those in-action photos on card fronts.
Actually, that’s not quite fair, because many of those shots are really good — Lloyd McClendon, Hoffman, Frank Williams, Dave Parker — all of them are caught mid-action, splashed in sunshine. Just like the baseball Gods intended.
But Barry Larkin?
The photo is shot at a weird angle, for starters — nearly lined up with the first-base line, but not quite. The result is a side view of Larkin in his stride, ready to hack down on top of a ball (apparently).
On its own, the unusual take on the batter’s box might be refreshing.
But the background totally kills it.
The dominant feature is the black-to-dark-green stairway that begins at Larkin’s ankles and ascends out of the center of the frame at the top. That same drab color scheme extends over the left-hand middle portion of the card, beginning at Larkin’s waist.
The fans behind Larkin are as depressing as the colors. Old men in cold-weather clothes, mostly, and none of them look particularly happy to be at the ballpark. One of them might even be asleep (or worse).
Another middle-aged unhappy squats at the bottom of the stairs with his camera at the ready but his thoughts in the 1960s, pondering lost youth.
And as for Larkin himself … well, you can kind of tell it’s him. But the shadows are grim enough to turn his home Reds white uniform a mottled gray, and his face is largely obscured by the shade from his batting helmet.
If not for the blazing red borders and Larkin’s subsequent blazing — though somewhat boring — career, the gloom of this card might be overwhelming.
As things stand, the 1987 Kahn’s Larkin is a worthy addition to Reds or Larkin wantlists, and it’s probably Larkin’s toughest rookie card.
And, almost surely, his ugliest.
(Check out our other player card posts here.)
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