There is no greater honor a team can give a player than retiring his number. And in their 143-year history, the Reds had done it only eight times out of approximately 2,100 players who have worn the uniform. The ninth person to have his number retired was Larkin, who was honored on the field at Great American Ball Park on Saturday.
No. 11 will belong to Larkin, and only Larkin, forever.
"Never to be worn again, becoming an icon signifying your achievements, your history and our history, this baseball town is proud to say you displayed our name across your chest," Reds CEO Bob Castellini said.
The other retired numbers by the Reds are No. 1 for Fred Hutchinson, No. 5 for Johnny Bench, No. 8 for Joe Morgan, No. 10 for Sparky Anderson, No. 13 for Dave Concepcion, No. 18 for Ted Kluszewski, No. 20 for Frank Robinson, No. 24 for Tony Perez and the universally retired No. 42 for Jackie Robinson.
On the press box façade behind home plate, Larkin's No. 11 was unveiled next to Concepcion's number, which was the previous one to be retired in 2007.
"I'm so proud and humbled to be sitting up there on the wall next to my idol, Davey Concepcion, No. 13," Larkin said.
Several of Larkin's former teammates were in attendance, including Eric Davis, Dave Parker, Rob Dibble, Tom Browning, Chris Sabo, Bret Boone, Ron Oester, Mariano Duncan, Bill Doran and Juan Castro. Larkin pointed out that many of them were former second basemen and his double-play partners.
There were also video tributes from other ex-Reds.
"I'm so happy," said Concepcion from the video board. "You did it very well. I'm very happy for you. Congratulations."
"What an honor it must be to see your number go up among all the greats," said former third baseman Aaron Boone. "It's very much deserved. You were a great teammate and friend."
When Larkin broke into the Major Leagues with the Reds in 1986, he was assigned No. 15 as fellow shortstop Kurt Stillwell occupied No. 11, Larkin's favorite number growing up.
"I wore it up until I played baseball at Moeller [High School]," Larkin previously explained. "I think I wore 14 at Moeller. I don't know why ..."
One of Larkin's favorites, and fellow Cincinnatian Pete Rose, wore No. 14 for the Reds.
"When I went to Michigan, No. 11 was retired up there. Then they issued me No. 9. When you sign a big league contract and you're a 21-22-year-old rookie, you certainly take the number they give you. I wasn't going to ask for No. 11. Stillwell had it anyway. When Stilly left, I took that number."
During his 19-year career, Larkin had a lifetime average of .295 with 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits, a .371 on-base percentage and 379 stolen bases. He was a 12-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, a nine-time Silver Slugger winner, a member of the 1990 World Series championship team and the 1995 National League Most Valuable Player.
"He did it all as a Cincinnati Red," Castellini said. "Barry Larkin is one of our own."
No Reds player has worn No. 11 since Larkin retired after the 2004 season, as clubhouse manager and longtime friend Rick Stowe refused to assign it to anyone else.
Larkin was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in January and formally inducted last month in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"It's just been an absolutely incredible ride, and I'm just so proud to be here," said Larkin, who also threw a ceremonial first pitch to current Red and longtime admirer Brandon Phillips. "As soon as I got the call from the Hall of Fame, the first thing that I said to my wife is that I wanted to go to Cincinnati as fast as we can. We got it done, and we did it."
Just like he did during his induction speech in Cooperstown, Larkin could not help becoming a little emotional as he spoke before a sold-out crowd of Reds fans.
"Wow. I'm so proud to be a native Cincinnatian. I'm so proud to be the first native Cincinnatian inducted into the Hall of Fame," Larkin said. "I'm so proud to represent this great city of Cincinnati. I'm so proud to be a Cincinnati Red."