I apologize for this being a bit dated, but I spoke with Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall last week in the wake of one of his former players, longtime Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hall worked with Larkin 1983-85 as a young assistant coach at Michigan, Hall’s first job. After Larkin was voted in last week, he specifically credited Hall, among others, for his coaching and influence in a teleconference with reporters. Hall shared some memories of Larkin from their time together in Ann Arbor.
1. In high school, Larkin saw himself more as a football player than as a baseball player and was recruited to Michigan by then-coach Bo Schembechler. However, he was drafted in the second round coming out of high school by the Cincinnati Reds, which changed his thinking.
“But his mom was just dead set on him going to school and she pretty much told him, ‘You’re going to school,’” Hall said. “‘You’re not signing a pro contract.’”
2. Hall first saw Larkin playing for an amateur team out of Cincinnati, describing him as a tremendous athlete who lacked fundamentals.
“He didn’t know what he was doing at shortstop,” Hall said. “You could watch him throw and say, ‘Man, he’s got a great arm.’ You could see that his hands were O.K. but he didn’t really know how to catch the ball, how to use his feet, all the things that go into it.”
3. Hall and Larkin got to work in the fall of Larkin’s freshman year, working on his hitting and his defensive fundamentals.
“We had a great relationship,” Hall said. “He was a tremendous worker and I probably made him work harder at baseball than he’d ever worked at it, but he was a quick learner and he picked up things very easily, and because he was such a great athlete, it was kind of pointing him in the right direction.”
He was unleashed that spring.
“You knew he had talent, but then just seeing him against other teams and not just only offensively, but defensively, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do on a baseball field,” Hall said. “He could do it all.”
4. After working with Larkin – who was a two-time All-American at Michigan – Hall figured he’d never get another opportunity to work with that kind of talent. He left Michigan to become the head coach at Kent State 1988-93 and has been at Tech ever since. At his first practice at Tech, the team couldn’t use the old Russ Chandler Stadium field, so Hall took his players to Bobby Dodd Stadium, which at the time still had an artificial turf field, to take grounders. He’d heard hype about a shortstop named Nomar Garciaparra and now was about to find out if he lived up to it.
Hall said he’ll never forget the practice.
“After I hit those ground balls, I said to myself – I don’t know if I said it to anybody else – ‘This guy reminds me so much of Barry Larkin, it’s scary,’” Hall said. “I have to put them both in that category. I think they were both just great athletes and great shortstops.”
Think about that – having coached and helped develop both Larkin and Garciaparra, a hall of famer and another who will likely come close and may well have made it if not for injuries.
5. Further, Hall said some friends have told him he might have another former player make the hall, namely ex-Jacket Mark Teixeira, who has a bit of work to do still to but has a chance. He is humbled to have coached just one.
“It’s such a select group that there probably aren’t that many that can say they coached a hall of famer,” he said.
6. An odd note: Hall worked with another great shortstop while at Michigan, former Detroit Tiger Alan Trammell, during the major league strike in 1981. Needing a place to work out during the strike, Trammell came to Michigan, where Hall hit him ground balls daily. “I picked his brain every day,” said Hall, calling those sessions with Trammell a major influence.)
7. Hall was particularly honored that Larkin mentioned his old coach, even going so far as to talk about a particular fielding drill that Hall taught him almost 30 years ago.
“He didn’t have to mention me or the guy that was the head coach, Bud Middaugh,” Hall said. “He didn’t have to do that, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.”
8. Not entirely related, but Larkin’s son Shane plays basketball for Miami, which plays Tech Jan. 24 at Philips Arena.
9. Hall and Larkin have kept in touch – they traded texts after the announcement – but he’s not sure if he’ll go up to Cooperstown next summer for the induction ceremony. Hall figures he’ll be watching one of his sons play in a tournament or on the road recruiting, perhaps looking for the next Larkin.
“I’ll probably be watching it like everybody else on T.V.,” he said, “just so happy and so proud for him.”
Hall’s team is going through individual workouts and will begin practice Jan. 27. The first game is Feb. 17, against Kent State in Rock Hill, S.C. The Jackets are ranked No. 9 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper preseason poll.