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Reds hand Larkin his walking papers

Barry Larkin's stellar 19-year career with his hometown team ended Tuesday with a one-sided phone call.

The Cincinnati Reds informed their captain they aren't interested in keeping him around for another season. Instead, the Reds will replace the 40-year-old shortstop with two unproven youngsters.

Larkin was at his home in Orlando, Fla., when general manager Dan O'Brien and manager Dave Miley — a former teammate — called with the decision.

"It wasn't pleasant," Larkin told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "But it is what it is. It's definitely disappointing. I have decisions to make."

Larkin's 19 seasons with one team was the longest current streak in the majors. He had hoped for a 20th and was willing to discuss returning in a utility role, but the Reds ruled it out.

"You hate to say goodbye to the great players, but the process of the game is ultimately, all great careers do eventually end," O'Brien said.

Larkin isn't sure whether his career is over. He hasn't decided whether to try to play one more season with another team, ending his career in a different uniform.

"I have to see what opportunities present themselves, if there's anything that makes sense," he said.

Larkin grew up in Cincinnati and spent his entire career with the Reds, developing into one of the most prominent players in their illustrious history. He helped the team win a World Series in 1990 and won the NL's Most Valuable Player award in 1995, the last time the Reds made the playoffs.

He also was a steadying influence in the clubhouse during the 1990s, when former owner Marge Schott put the franchise in the national spotlight for her inflammatory comments.

Injuries have limited him in recent years, and he decided to make the 2004 season his last. But a good season — he hit .289 and made the All-Star team — prompted him to reconsider and ask for one more contract.

Larkin was willing to discuss a role as a backup infielder with the Reds in which he would work to develop the young shortstops. He then hoped to move into the front office in some capacity.

After several days of meetings involving the team's front office, scouts and coaches, the Reds decided it was time for a profound switch in direction, relying on Felipe Lopez and Anderson Machado to take over at shortstop.

Larkin went through a similar situation at the end of the 2003 season, when the club made an unappealing take-it-or-leave-it offer. Convinced that he was gone, Larkin bought a car for the Reds' longtime clubhouse manager to show his appreciation.

Then, owner Carl Lindner intervened and brought him back on a one-year deal. This time, ownership agreed with the decision to let him go, and O'Brien made the call.

"Barry really didn't have much to say," O'Brien said. "There was a lot of silence. We gave him an opportunity to share his thoughts. There were really none forthcoming. He thanked us for having the courtesy to make the call and explain where we were coming from."

Larkin sounded stunned when reached at home a short time later.

"Nothing really surprises me anymore," he said.

Sensing he might not get another contract offer, Larkin made sure to say goodbye to everyone during the final game of the season, a 2-0 loss to Pittsburgh at Great American Ball Park.

Machado replaced Larkin after the third inning, giving fans a chance to recognize him. Larkin then went on the public address system, thanked fans for their years of support and lobbied for one more season in his hometown.

He wasn't surprised that it didn't happen. The front office decided to bench him for the last month of the season so they could get a look at the young shortstops, a hint he wasn't in their plans.

Larkin didn't like the reduced role, but was willing to consider it in order to stay in his hometown. The Reds decided it wouldn't work because Larkin would want to play.

"Barry is a very confident player and after 19 years of performing at an elite level, that's understandable," O'Brien said. "But in our scenario with these two young players, that probably wouldn't have been in anyone's best interests."

Larkin leaves Cincinnati second on the Reds' career list in hits, trailing Pete Rose. He's also second in doubles, runs and stolen bases.

"I left Cincinnati in a pretty good situation, actually," Larkin said. "The last year I played there was a great year. It was a tough last month, because basically they didn't let me play the last month. I made the All-Star team, played well and played hard. I did what I could do."

BONDS HAS SURGERY:Barry Bonds underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Tuesday and is expected to be at full strength when the San Francisco Giants open spring training in February. The slugger underwent a 20-minute arthritis cleanup procedure at the Fremont Surgery Center. Bonds, 40, told the team he first felt pain Oct. 4, the day after the season ended, and he didn't want the injury to affect his offseason training.

SHEETS' BACK REPAIRED: Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Ben Sheets underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back on Tuesday and is expected to be ready for spring training. Sheets had a microscopic lumbar discectomy, a 30-minute procedure that was performed by Dr. Drew Dossett in Dallas, general manager Doug Melvin said. Sheets, who had been bothered by a bad back for two years, will remain in Dallas until the weekend before returning to his home in Baton Rouge, La., to begin his rehabilitation. Melvin said he should begin his regular offseason throwing program in January. Sheets was 12-14 last season with a 2.70 ERA. The Brewers scored just 19 runs in his 14 losses.

BALL ON BLOCK: Bonds' 700th home run ball will be up for sale beginning Monday. The ball will be placed on an auction site at from Oct. 18-27, with bids beginning at $1, said Daniel Horowitz, the attorney for the man who ended up with the historic blast at SBC Park. Steve Williams got the ball after a scramble in the left-center bleachers. Timothy Murphy has sued Williams, saying he should get the ball because he had it locked behind his knees while at the bottom of a scrum before Williams swiped it. A judge refused to hold up the sale, freeing Williams to sell it. Attorneys for Murphy said they are continuing with their suit.

FURCAL IN JAIL: Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal turned himself in to the Cobb County (Ga.) Jail on Tuesday to serve a 21-day sentence on a probation violation. Jail spokeswoman Nancy Bodiford said Furcal entered the jail two hours before a court deadline. A judge decided last week to allow Furcal to participate in the playoffs despite a probation violation on a drunken driving charge. Furcal's season ended Monday night when the Braves lost in Game 5 of their divisional series against the Houston Astros.