Friday, December 29, 2006

Barry Larkin Signs With Giants

The San Francisco Giants made a big splash in the free-agent market yesterday with the signing of former Oakland A's left-hander Barry Zito. Today the Giants added another Barry to join Zito and Barry Bonds. San Francisco has reportedly agreed to terms with former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin.

The signing continues the club's efforts to be the best collection of Barrys in the history of major league baseball. The strategy was apparently inspired by Barry Bonds's chase for Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. On every road trip, the Giants expect to hear endless "Barry Sucks" chants. However, if the team is stocked with Barrys, opposing fans may get confused and forget which Barry they're booing. In that scenario, they would likely stop booing and put down their fake syringes as Bonds bids for history.

The strategy has made life hectic for general manager Barry Sabean, formerly known as Brian. Landing Zito was a huge coup after the loss of ace Jason Schmidt, who had refused to change his name to Barry Schmidt. The club will not go so far as to alter its nickname from the Giants to the Barrys. However, the team's new logo has been unveiled, showing a game of catch between a giant Barry Manilow and a giant Barry Gibb.

The signing of Larkin brings one of the all-time great shortstops out of retirement. The 1995 National League MVP was a 12-time All-Star who won three Gold Gloves. Larkin will turn 43 in April, so many observers felt that he was too young to play for the Giants. He will likely have to change positions, due to the presence of Barry Vizquel in San Francisco.

Official terms of the deal have not been released. Larkin last played in 2004, batting .289 with 8 home runs and 44 RBI in 111 games. Those pedestrian numbers and the layoff surely reduced what he could command in this free-agent market. Preliminary reports indicate that Larkin signed a one-year deal for $22 million.

While the Giants are thrilled with the signing, fans in Cincinnati are far more critical. Larkin has been involved with the Washington Nationals since his retirement, but his entire playing career was with the Reds. He won a World Series title with the Nasty Boys in 1990 and is a Cincinnati native. One fan summed up the city's disappointment: "Barry Larkin is as synonymous with the Cincinnati Reds as mug shots are with the Bengals."

Larkin's return will delay his Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility. Another Hall of Fame welcomed Barry Sanders last year. But as the Detroit Lions know too well, not all Barrys return.