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When Barry Larkin said no to Bo

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Barry Larkin walks the red carpet Thursday. He was an All-American baseball player for Michigan.

Detroit — It was one of the most challenging, uncomfortable conversations Barry Larkin had his life.

He had to tell Bo Schembechler he wanted to play baseball at Michigan, not football, for which he had been recruited.

"Bo recruited him as hard as anybody I can remember," former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Thursday of Larkin, a starting safety for three seasons (1979-81) at Moeller High in Cincinnati.

Larkin, however, said Schembechler essentially forced his hand.

"He cast the first stone," Larkin said. "He told me he was going to redshirt me. Now, when he recruited me, he told me I was going to play the next year. But something happened, somebody came back, and he told me he was going to redshirt me my freshman year and let me just play baseball. That's what he said — 'I'm going to let you just play baseball.'

"We had a great freshman year, we went to the College World Series, we did well there. It was the first time I just participated in just baseball. I made great strides, and I thought, 'Hmmm, this might work.' "

It did.

Larkin became an All-American for Michigan and went on to a long, successful career with his hometown Reds. Thursday, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

So, Larkin had to finally tell Schembechler he wanted to stick with baseball — and only baseball.

"I always respected Barry because he would sit and he would listen and was very respectful, but he knew what he wanted to do," Carr said. "It was kind of interesting to watch someone who already was at Michigan, say no to Bo."

But that's what Larkin did.

"The meeting that I had with Bo to tell him that I wasn't going to play was not a very comfortable one," Larkin said. "He let me know it was the University of Michigan, and no one came to the University of Michigan just to play baseball.

"I wish he was around because I always used to love to tell that story when he was in the room so I could see him turn beet red. It was just a great relationship. I miss him a lot. But he was a huge part of my success as a player and as a person."

Ultimately, Larkin played baseball only at Michigan, but Schembechler checked up on him.

"He came by to watch me not to just play but to practice, as well," Larkin said. "There would be no one in the stands and we'd see this little figure walk around with a hoodie on and stand on the third base line, and just heckle me. (They'd say) 'Who was that?' I was like, 'I don't know who that is, but I thought I recognized the voice.'

"So one day I go by the athletic department and I ask him, 'Hey coach, did you come by the baseball field?' He's like, 'No, Larkin, why would I come by the baseball field?' Yeah, it was Bo. He would come out and heckle me and tell me to hit a man instead of that sissy baseball. He told me he would strike me out anyway."

Carr, meanwhile, would have been Larkin's position coach.

"I would have coached him, and I would have (messed) him up," Carr said, laughing.

"Barry would have been a great football player, as well, but time has proven he made the right decision."