Okay, so Barry Larkin wasn’t traded here, but he’s still germaine to the conversation as the big news here was the Reds chose the right shortstop to trade and it made a huge organizational impact.
At the time (1987), the Reds had two extremely promising young shortstops, Larkin and Stillwell. The Reds had drafted Larkin twice, signing him the second time after being a first round draft choice, the fourth overall choice, of the 1984 draft at age 20. Stillwell was a 1st round pick, the second overall choice, in the 1983 draft at age 18.
Larkin went to college in Michigan for a few years, Stillwell went to Billings, Montana, to start his pro career. Stillwell batted .324 in Rookie Ball in 1983 (age 18), .251 at Cedar Rapids in A Ball in 1984 at age 19, .264 in Denver in AA ball in 1985 (age 20), hitting a total of seven home runs those three seasons. He joined the Reds as a rookie in 1986, at age 21, and batted .229 with no homers. In 1987, age 22, he batted .258 with four homers. In 1988, age 23, traded to Kansas City, he batted .251 with 10 homers.
In 1985, Larkin, at age 21, batted .267 with one home run for Vermont in AA ball. In 1986, at age 22, he batted .329 with 10 homers and 51 extra base hits for AAA Denver. In 41 games with the Reds that season (age 22), he batted .283 with 3 homers. In 1987, age 23, he batted .244 with 12 homers. In 1988, age 24, Larkin was THE starting shortstop, and batted .296 with 12 homers.
What does all that mean? I find it interesting that both had similar major league numbers at age 23. Stillwell with the Royals batted .251 with 10 homers. Larkin, with the Reds, batted .244 with 12 homers. Oddly, age 23 was Stillwell’s best season and Larkin’s worse, but the scouts must have seen something for Larkin was awarded the starting shortstop job and Stillwell was traded.
Larkin could outhit Stillwell, and by the way, could outfield Stillwell as well. Kurt was known to have a fantastic arm; in fact, Stillwell made the AL all-star team in 1988 in his first season in Kansas City as the 23 year old. That was his high point as a player. As we know, Larkin went on to complete what will be capped as a Hall of Fame career.
What’s hard to imagine now is that it was such a tough choice. The Reds had to make a decision; this time, they didn’t sell short. They dealt Stillwell for starting pitcher Danny Jackson who went on to have one of the best Reds’ pitching seasons post-1950 when he went 23-8 (2.73 ERA and league leading 15 complete games) for the 1988 Reds. That was some quality work by new Reds General Manager Murray Cook. Reds owner Marge Schott had hired Cook less than one month before, replacing the fired Bill Bergesch. The Reds had finished second in 1987 (six games behind the Giants), and Bergesch had taken heavy criticism for not having traded one of their younger players (such as Larkin, Kal Daniels, or Paul O’Neill) to get pitching help. Within one month of his hiring, Cook dealt the young Stillwell, getting Jackson from the Royals who had finished two games behind the Twins the previous season. Cook had also replaced Bergesch as the Yankeees GM in 1984.
Stillwell’s career line included nine big league seasons with a career batting average of .249 and 34 home runs. Larkin played 19 seasons (2180 games) and batted .295 with 198 home runs, an MVP award, 13 all-star games, three gold gloves, and a 30-30 season the year after he won the MVP.
Jackson had shown tons of promise for Kansas City. He had already had two double figure win seasons for the Royals, but was coming off an ugly 9-18 season and the Royals sold low. In his first season with the Reds, he finished second to Orel Hershisher for the Cy Young Award with Hershisher being an unanimous choice.
Jackson’s Cincinnati success was short-lived, however. The 260 innings in 1988 were the most of his career and he fell to 6-11 and a 5.60 ERA in 1989. He went 6-6 for the 1990 World Champion Reds and was allowed to file free agency at season’s end. He played seven more extremely inconsistent seasons following 1990. He had another outstanding year with the Phillies in 1994, going 14-6 and finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting, only to finish 2-12 the following year. Jackson finished his career with a 112-131 record and a 4.01 ERA.
Shortstop Angel Salazar never played a Reds game. He had played somewhat regularly for the Royals for two seasons, but couldn’t hit. The Reds released him in spring training of 1988, and he played 34 games for the Cubs that year before ending his career with a .212 career batting average.
Ted Power had been both an effective closer and starting pitcher for the Reds. He saved 27 games as a closer in 1985 before giving way to John Franco in the closing role. Converting to starter, he went 10-13 with the 1987 Reds, was a swing man for a couple of years in the American League before pitching several years strictly out of the bullpen, including one more season with the Reds in 1991. Power pitched 13 big league seasons, going 68-69 with a 4.00 ERA in 564 major league games. He’s now the pitching coach for the Reds AAA affiliate Louisville Bats.