That's certainly the case when it comes to 2012 inductee Barry Larkin, who accumulated just 673 at-bats over two seasons before making it to the Major Leagues for good. Over the last 10 Hall of Fame elections, the only player who received less Minor League seasoning was 2004 inductee Paul Molitor (who batted just 228 times in the Minors before debuting with Milwaukee in 1978).
As a first-round Draft pick who hailed from a well-respected Division I program (the University of Michigan), Larkin was certainly primed to make a meteoric ascent to the Majors. But before he cemented himself as a cornerstone of the Cincinnati infield, he logged time with the Double-A Vermont Reds and Triple-A Denver Zephyrs, playing for the former in 1985 and the latter in 1986. At both stops, his manager was Jack Lind.
"[Larkin] was one of the best guys I ever met, right from the get-go," recalled Lind, a 65-year-old professional baseball lifer who currently works as a scout for the Houston Astros. "He had a good work ethic, played hard and hustled no matter what the situation. He was a guy coming from a major college program, but heading straight into Double-A he struggled a little bit in the first half of the season. He made the necessary adjustments, though, and ended up hitting about .270."
Indeed he did. Larkin finished the season with a .267 average over 72 games, stealing 10 bases and accumulating more walks (23) than strikeouts (21). He and his Vermont teammates went on to win the 1985 Eastern League championship over the New Britain Red Sox, setting the stage for further success with the 1986 Denver Zephyrs. That season, Larkin hit .329 with 10 home runs, 10 triples, and 19 stolen bases en route to being named both MVP and Rookie of the Year in the Triple-A American Association.
And though the Zephyrs were just one level above the Vermont Reds, the two Minor League environs couldn't have been more dissimilar. Vermont played at Burlington's Centennial Field, a no-frills facility whose grandstand was erected in 1922 (Centennial Field now hosts the Vermont Lake Monsters, and is currently the oldest ballpark in all of Minor League Baseball). The Zephyrs, by contrast, played in Denver's outsized Mile High Stadium -- a home they shared with the NFL's Denver Broncos.
"[Mile High Stadium] was made for him. He was a spray hitter, hitting the ball to all fields, and he was able to spray the ball all over the place," said Lind.
Among Larkin's teammates in Denver were several other players who went on to make an impact in Cincinnati, including alumni of the 1990 World Championship squad such as Rob Dibble, Chris Sabo, and Paul O'Neill.
"I knew that the team had talent, and that several players had a chance to have good careers in the bigs, but I wasn't a trained scout then. It wasn't my job to single out anybody," said Lind. "I was there to provide a good atmosphere in which to learn."
Clearly Larkin flourished in the atmosphere Lind created. The shortstop appeared in 103 games with Denver before making his Major League debut with the Reds on Aug. 13, 1986. That was to be the first of 2,180 big league contests, during which he accumulated a body of work worthy of Cooperstown enshrinement.
"[Larkin] was a humble guy who carried himself proudly and politely," said Lind. "[His career] shows what can happen when you have a good work ethic, keep your nose to the grindstone and battle your way through."