GENE LARKIN

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Gene Larkin '84CC
Courtesy: Columbia University Athletics

 

 

GENE LARKIN
baseball

inducted February 18, 2006

It doesn’t matter here he goes or what he’s doing, Gene Larkin told Bob Sansevere of Baseball Digest in a 2002 article, shopping, eating, playing golf, or just going for a walk. People are always shaking his hand or patting him on the back.

"Every time I play golf, it happens. Just a few days ago, a gentleman I didn't know said, `Thanks a lot for '91,'" Larkin said. "People want to thank me, congratulate me or tell me how happy that hit makes them feel."

The hit came in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. That hit, a long single to left field off Alejandro Pena of the Atlanta Braves, came with the bases loaded and sent Dan Gladden home from third base for a 1-0 victory and the Twins' second world championship in five seasons.

"It was one of the bigger moments in my life," Larkin said in the article. "I was a role player. An average player at best. If I didn't get this hit, I'd be just another player who had a so-so career."

Instead, he's the player who had the hit that won Game 7 of the '91 World Series.

But Gene Larkin is more than that to Columbia baseball fans. To them, he’s the person who hit three home runs in one game, each to a different field, at Army. He’s the man who had three hits in a game nine times during his 40-game senior season (1984), who drove in five runs in a game once and four runs five times during that season, the man who began the season with two hits in three at-bats, including a triple and home run in the season opener against New Hampshire, and never really let up.

“Geno” had enjoyed a very good college career until that 1984 season. Well-known as perhaps the best-fielding third baseman in the East, often compared to the Yankees’ all-time great third baseman Graig Nettles for his quick hands and lateral quickness, he had begun to cement a solid foundation as a hitter.

The North Bellmore, Long Island resident, son of a retired New York City police officer, batted .309 as a first-year, .344 as a sophomore, and .373 as a junior, improving his home run and run production each season as he grew more and more comfortable with switch-hitting, which Columbia coach Paul Fernandes convinced him to do.

But no amount of improvement could have prepared the college baseball world for Larkin’s senior year. He batted .429 that year, breaking or tying 13 of a possible 16 records. He hit 19 home runs, breaking both the Columbia season record of eight (which had topped Lou Gehrig’s seven) and the career record of 16; drove in 62 runs, 29 more than the old record; netted 133 total bases, 51 more than the old mark; and set new standards for hits, runs and doubles. His .371 career batting average tied the then-season record.

He hit .355 in good weather in Florida, then came north and did even better, going 13 for 18 (.722) with 15 runs batted in, in his first five games up north. In another 12-game stretch, he batted .615 with seven home runs and 29 RBI’s. He concluded his college career with a doubleheader at Brown, going 5 for 9 with a double, home run, and seven RBI’s.

He led all eastern Division I players in home runs and runs bated in, playing him seventh and third in the NCAA statistics; his .905 slugging percentage was second in the nation. He batted .419 in the Eastern League, forerunner of the Ivy League, leading the league in home runs, runs batted in, and total bases, and was unanimous all-league.

The American College Baseball Coaches Association voted him the only eastern player to make first team All-America, and the first Columbia player since Archie Roberts in 1965. Drafted in the 20th round by the Twins, he never hit below .302 in three minor league seasons, and played seven years in the majors with the Twins. He earned two Wold Series rings, in 1987 and 1991, and retired in 1994.

Today, Gene Larkin lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, Minn., with his wife Kathleen and their two children, a daughter, Kelly, 14, and a boy, Gene, 12. He works as a financial planner with New Era Financial Group, and derives enjoyment these days from his family, coaching and operating baseball camps, and playing golf.
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